The Panorama beyond Panama

Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | April 16, 2016 11:35 IST
Answering the most pertinent question “Why do we need whistleblowers to expose the transgressions of the offshore world?” Seabrooke and Wigan underline an undeniable fact: that we currently lack the power and resources to regulate offshore finance.

- See more at:

Media is abuzz with a barrage of opinions following the Panama papers release. Most of them state the obvious, how the Panama revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, or indulge in the usual rich-bashing with nauseating black-and-white presumptions, hopelessly articulated through a rampant use of bizarre adjectives.

Few perspectives however seem genuinely thought-provoking – like that of the professor duo Leonard Seabrooke and Duncan Wigan of the Copenhagen Business School. They are quick to remind us the Panama leak is not the first of its kind. Just that the Fonseca Files comprise a longer list of names of politicians and celebrities who have ‘gone into a Shell’ for obvious reasons, dodging taxes and hiding ill-gotten gains to be precise.

Answering the most pertinent question “Why do we need whistleblowers to expose the transgressions of the offshore world?” they highlight the undeniable fact (one that state machineries invariably choose to put out of sight) – that we simply lack the power and resources to regulate offshore finance.

They cite three plausible reasons, backed by field research, for the lack of systemic access to critical information:

The supply-side entities of offshore finance are wedded to secrecy by design – it’s their business model. With a job to devise fool-proof schemes that make the most of the global legal provisions and the cocoon of sovereign states, sharing any kind of information would mean the end of the road for them.
The bureaucracy and inefficiency of the institutions responsible for information-exchange seriously mars the quality and speed of the investigation process. Imagine the delays happening between countries with no friendly ties or reciprocal arrangements if a request for bank account information from one Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member-state to another takes anywhere close to six months. Contrast this with the speed and alacrity of the perpetrators and we get a fair idea of the gravity of the thorny issue.
Most important, the vested interests of the bigwigs of international finance block any serious movement towards tighter regulation. Profiting from other countries’ hot money is too big a lure to be sacrificed. No wonder, there are scores of mainstream jurisdictions that help the elite across the globe to park their secret funds. Delaware, not Panama, is the easiest place to incept shell companies, the duo points out.

Seabrooke and Wigan acknowledge the traction gained by the faction fighting for fairness and integrity of the financial system – G-20-backed and OECD-led crusade for Automatic Exchange of Information and the 2010 Foreign Account Compliance Act - but lament the fact that the pace is uninspiring. Not to mention the double standards of the major players – demanding about information from foreign shores while conveniently lax about affairs on home turf.

The professors are spot on when it comes to measuring the real worth of the Panama episode: More actionable than the data it provides is the fact that the thorny issue of tax evasion is now more visible than ever before. The big hope is that it will lead to more transparency of financial ownership information and avoidance of tax avoidance strategies in havens that are clearly more thriving than Panama but have conveniently escaped the uproar that made Panama a household name for all the wrong reasons.

The hope, we believe, is bigger in scope. Above all else, the legal and accounting fraternities need to rise above their ephemeral business interests to serve the eternal cause of financial integrity and transparency in an increasing connected world.

This is not to undermine OECD's commitment to the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) package of 15 action points that is reportedly also include inputs from more than 80 non-OECD, non-G20 jurisdictions but it can do more on another front.

More than a token acknowledgment ‘that there are other jurisdictions where a lack of information on beneficial ownership of corporate and other entities is facilitating illicit flows’, OECD must unconditionally accept the fact that the issue of tax evasion is more political than economic. With that stance, it will be on a better footing to claim allegiance to the larger cause in the wake of several allegations like the suspected discrimination in its crackdown on dubious tax regimes – peer reviews for member states and confrontational diktats for non-member states.

Meanwhile, we keenly await Seabrooke and Wigan’s forthcoming book ‘Global Tax Battles’, which, we have reason to believe, would be more profound than J C Sharman’s engaging work ‘Havens in a Storm’ which sought to explain how an alliance of weak powerless havens craftily managed to fortify their in-house dealings, charging the economic organization of dictating terms to them rather than mete out fair treatment, using its own rhetoric of ‘level playing field’ against it.

- See more at:

Back to School

The best phase of my primary schooling years happened in Shillong, at a Kendriya Vidyalaya near Police Bazaar, nestled in the lap of nature in a bungalow aptly called Forest Lodge. My life took elusive turns ever since we left Shillong and shifted to Mumbai in 1980, but the tranquil times dating back more than three decades are firmly etched in memory. Hence, the thought of paying a visit to my Alma mater was always at the back of my mind throughout my years of employment, wedlock, fatherhood and beyond. But I had little idea that the search for my school would be far from a leisurely walk down memory lane.

As many as two visits, accompanied by my wife and son, proved futile - in May 2010 and 2011 - as my memory failed me on both occasions, rather fooled me, as I lost my way in the maze of the lanes and by lanes around Raj Bhavan, a route I preferred whenever I walked all the way from school to my home in Laitumkhrah, but still quite far from my school located in the cantonment area near Civil Hospital. The concrete derangement of the city (not to mention, littered roads and traffic congestion) in the last thirty years made the task even more arduous.

But something about the third trip this April 2016 told us we would not return home disappointed. And Lo!

We finally found my school, now the residence of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Meghalaya. The primary school was moved to K V EAC, Upper Shillong in 1994. The old structure en route the Pine walk trail is still intact, albeit renovated and adorned with a fresh coat of bright paint. The long, winding footpath semi-circling the school is now a tar road but the shortcut to Police Bazaar is no more a public pathway. Precisely why it was impossible to spot the school bungalow without divine intervention.

It was my wife's brainwave that put a decisive end to the celestial search and helped us get the geography right. She had the presence of mind to ask a NCERT book seller on Keating Road for directions and pat came 'The Reply' which finally led us to our prized destination. Not Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, not Shillong Post Office, not Shillong Tourism Board, not Shillong Forest Office, it was this kind-hearted book seller who showed us the way. Needless to say, we have bookmarked him for life.

In the same trip, we traced many cherished landmarks, all reminding me of the wonderful time I spent with my mom and dad as also at school with my friends Akhilesh, Deepak, Suman Kaur and Hemant Kalita and teachers Miss CM, Miss Lingskon, Das madam, Dev Madam, Lama madam and Nigam sir. Steeped in nostalgia, I simply can't express my sentiments in words, hope this photo tribute does the needful on my behalf...

Mr. Ajay Singh, our God sent guide who showed us the way to the school

My School - K V Forest Lodge, now residence of the Conservator of Forests

School gate - wish I could step inside for a quick tour - my son would have relished it for sure, being a proud KVite from Thane!

Forest Lodge - the place still bears the old name - I am so glad..

The erstwhile shortcut to Police Bazaar en route Keating Road

Anand Hotel - we stayed here for two weeks way back in the late 70s - the place is now (pathetically) run by a new management - even the food is no longer authentic Marwari. My dad relished the Missi Roti of the old place. It's off the menu now and worse, the current manager is so wooden, you can easily carve furniture out of him.

We often dined at Hotel Eee Cee - a cozy Police Bazaar hotel then - even today it's a decent accommodation option - we stayed here this time round just for old time's sake...

My dad's office - The Secretariat building

Laitumkhrah circle - close to Prantika Cottage - our home in Shillong! I tried hard to locate 'Bombay Stores' which sold the best chicken chilly in the world but to no avail - the guy probably sold the place! Miss my friends Dipankar and Shubo from Prantika Cottage

Civil Hospital - near my school. My class teacher (and Math sir) Mr. Nigam once got me here for some first aid - after I had a nasty fall in school premises...

Laban - my mom took us to a family friend's place here one afternoon - for a sumptuous chicken lunch!

Asgard Cottage - another 'home' in Shillong near Laitumkhrah circle.

Post office close to Asgard Cottage - it was here that we (mom, myself and sis) collected the Reader's Digest book titled "How to live with Life" that my dad sent us by post while he was touring in Arunachal Pradesh. The Post master helped us trace the Prantika Cottage during our last visit. The book has helped me cope with life, to an extent, but more important, it's a great souvenir that reminds me of my dad and his love for books.

The auditorium near Central Library - we once watched a puppet Show 'Alladin's Magic Lamp' here as school kids!

Mohni Stores - My mom's Shopping adda at Police Bazaar

Heritage city bus of Shillong (now endangered) - my usual mode of transport to school - we had a royal tour from Baraa bazaar to Upper Nongthumai and back - relished every moment of it.

The Intel Insider

Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | April 01, 2016 10:02 IST
Today, at a time when Intel grapples to keep pace with the ever-evolving challenges of a Smartphone world, Andy Grove’s brand of innovation would be sorely missed. Had his health not failed him during his autumn years, he would have had something up his sleeve to help his company get into the groove.

- See more at:

It was during Andrew Grove’s tenure that Intel became gloriously synonymous with microprocessors, permanently etching the Pentium’s “Intel Inside” campaign in the minds of scores of tech players and users across the globe. Ironically enough, this new identity erased the memory of company’s memory products, once the company’s mainstay. The tag of world’s largest chipmaker was not entirely devoid of strife – recall Professor Thomas R. Nicely’s discovery of the FPU error encountered during complex mathematical calculations which caused some loss of face for the company, more so for the delayed acknowledgment and belated recall of the faulty processors – there’s no denying the fact that Grove was one of the pioneers of the PC era and it was his practical wisdom and astonishing flexibility that scripted Intel’s industry leadership, balance sheet health and stock market triumph. Grove was also a passionate proponent of native manufacturing – especially of electronic goods - which he felt was integral to engineer tech breakthroughs at home. Presidential candidates (other than Trump may be) would love to borrow that thought for their electoral campaigns, if not entirely for righteous reasons.

Engineer, technologist, entrepreneur, thought leader, author, activist and speaker all rolled into one, Grove was distinctly ‘start-up’ in conviction, ever-vigilant of tech disruptions - imminent or distant - and a firm believer of nimble-footed innovation and fruitful dissent. His management style was rooted in discipline, what many of his detractors would have found ‘old school’. He was not the one to suffer fools and his work culture had no room for laxity. Way back in 1981, he made his employees put in two extra hours per day with no commensurate compensation. Undoubtedly, his brand of innovation inspired several aspirants of the time that are now established names in the Valley. He was one of those rare technologists who are equally adept at striking meaningful management conversations, precisely why he was able to transform ideas into products.

Much of his steely resolve and maverick attitude, one reckons, would have come from his childhood strife in Budapest where he was born as the Jewish Andras Grof at the time of Nazi occupation. After having suffered the worst of Russian atrocities during World War II, it would have taken exceptional courage to tiptoe into Austria under a fake identity before moving to the ultimate land of opportunities, the United States. It was here that he learnt everything including English and Chemical engineering, the latter from Berkeley’s University of California.

It was at Fairchild Semiconductor that he met and worked with chip wizards Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore (of Moore’s law fame) in R & D. When the duo founded Intel, Grove became their first employee and took charge of manufacturing and research. The rest, as they say, turned out be history.

Grove’s philanthropy and public activism were equally striking. His generous donations to Parkinson’s research and his heartfelt plea to the medical fraternity for a deeper probe into the terminal disorder bear testimony. His 1996 Fortune cover story stressing on the need for cross-disciplinary work in prostate cancer treatment is an invaluable actionable resource for doctors and patients alike. (

Today, at a time when Intel grapples to keep pace with the ever-evolving challenges of a Smartphone world, Andy Grove’s brand of innovation would be sorely missed. Had his health not failed him during his autumn years, he would have had something up his sleeve to help his company get into the groove.

- See more at: