Who's gaining?

When international companies sell hugely profitable assets such as oil fields or mobile phone businesses, poor countries miss out on billions of dollars in capital gains tax. We uncover a massive new corporate tax dodge.

This is an investigation which encapsulates our way working. In May 2017, two Finance Uncovered journalists spent three days with union officials from Ghana, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Norway and Uganda as part of a bespoke training workshop.

The task was to use the six sets of corporate financial statements provided by the delegates as the basis for an exercise in spotting possible tax avoidance red flags.

Working with Ugandan academic, Everline Aketch from Public Services International, we alighted on Umeme, Uganda’s monopoly electricity distributor.

Analysing Umeme’s financial statements, immediately our news antennae went up: had a UK based private equity firm made a windfall profit from its sale of Umeme, and if so had Uganda received any capital gains tax from it?

This answers to these questions formed the basis of a story which we realised spoke to an under-reported form of multinational tax avoidance: capital gains tax avoidance.

Following our Umeme investigation, we produced a series of stories on how international companies side-step capital gains tax after they sell a lucrative asset.

This investigation helped put capital gains tax on the policymakers’ map. Oxfam Novib took on this issue and a report we co-wrote with them was featured at an event hosted by the OECD, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. One of our stories prompted concerted civil society campaigning which played a significant part in the repayment by a US oil major of tens of millions of dollars in tax.

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