Have you always been interested in legal illegal dealings on an ideological level or within the realm of art?
Yes, I've always been interested in the notion of the legal as a social construct to control society, often in conflictual relation to social justice. Somehow the law is a dogma that’s rarely questioned, although legal systems can be made just to enforce injustice. As an artist I like to work with legal codes that can be hacked and challenged, pushing the boundaries of what can be considered legal or not.
Why do you have such a strong interest in evasion and the workings of global financial companies?
I'm interested in working with contemporary economic, social and political structures, and how those can be rearranged artistically. I see this as a form of art practice: intervening at that level of power relations between corporations, authorities and masses of people. Finance is just one of these fascinating complex structures that affects everyone globally today and can potentially be manipulated by single individuals. It’s this artistic performance that I actually consider my real interest and work.
What can individuals do in the face of gross financial profiteering?
Stay on top of it, understand what is going on and why it is relevant. Think about real change that can be made and start to have radical change in your engagement with society and its organization. The real recession is not economic, it’s an identity crisis. The problems are widespread indifference and inadequate political alternatives. Restoring and reinventing social values will generate a new fair global economy and well being.
What do you hope you can achieve with your work in the art world?
Proposing another way to make art that reconnects people to society through understanding important contemporary issues while demonstrating the real power of art, which is too often confined in the exhibitions spaces. I’m also trying to work on a new material that is much more ephemeral and elaborate, yet it can be assembled in interesting new artistic modes.
How did you begin researching offshore tax havens?
I always thought about working on tax havens, it’s such a huge contradiction in our society. However, it took me years to strategize and to garner the economic and legal knowledge to be ready to target them. It used to be difficult to find information about how these financial structures work. Publications about the subject started to flourish just a few years ago and its only now, with the internet, that we can access some of the data. While Switzerland initiated the model a century ago, its structural use by multinationals and financial firms is quite recent, generating wide economic inequality and volatility. I'd say that has been my project for life and somehow I have the right momentum, considering the wide concern that the issue generated in the last months.
Are these havens well known and used by corporations and financiers?
Every economist would agree that contemporary economy and finance is all based on cross border trade, hence offshore centers became structural hubs where money flows through and legal agreements are facilitated. Defenders of offshore centers look at them as necessary instruments to accelerate the economic growth in a competitive global market, which is partially reasonable since the onshore legal systems are completely unequipped to cope with both positive and negative forces of globalization. However, the truth is that offshore centers are highly dysfunctional because they are unregulated and opaque, generating distortions in the market and distribution of wealth for everyone.
Have you been taking advantage of these tax loopholes through Paypal?
In theory that would have been part of the plan, by using PayPal just as an international bank, transferring funds to New York and declaring the revenues in the City of London, where I incorporated myself as LTD (limited liability company) to avoid taxes and get personal immunity. However, PayPal froze all the money I made by selling identities of Cayman's companies after just three weeks of the publication of project. Apparently PayPal didn't want to be involved in my allegedly illegal activity, while PayPal is based in Luxembourg, evading taxes legally over billions of profit.
Is every company who banks with the multinational banks somewhat guilty in all this?
On the ground there are banks that corrupt politicians in weak countries, also independent lawyers and accountants made this system technically possible. However, in general, the accountability should be political from the First World, which enforces international laws only for its economic interests. Offshore centers have replaced the brute colonialism of rifles with subtle financial exploitation. Not for nothing, the U.K. has the major offshore networks that holds economic power over its old empire. Companies that want to compete on a global market often need to make use of offshore structures because that is just the way globalization works today. On the other hand, multibillion dollar companies should be accountable, at least ethically, for the misery they bring on most of the world.
What can individuals do to counteract or at least not support these companies?
Citizens should first understand how vast and damaging this phenomenon is. For instance, it should be an outrage that Apple doesn’t pay any taxes on its earnings, while public schools are closing down and people are losing their pensions and health care. However, it is not about the evil companies, but it’s our political system that is unable to tackle serious problems that affect our world today, like climate change. The way laws are created and tax revenues are distributed should be much faster, effective and democratic. It’s a question of reformulating our societal organization in structures more appropriate for the challenges of today.
To what extent do you think the art world is implicated in these dealings?
The financialization of the art market has begun to come under scrutiny. Most of the secondary art market is constituted of commodities to speculate on avoiding taxes, laundering money and transferring assets over borders. Most of the money that flows through art auctions comes in and out of offshore companies. For instance some banks, like Deutsche Bank, used to promote art investments as an offshore instrument. However, those operations are for artworks worth over millions of dollars and thus comprise a minor aspect of complex art markets. I wish the art world would dare to be more transparent and speak more frankly about that, since inequality affects it dramatically. Yet, it's still art, with much less political and economic importance than offshore centers.