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Charleston woman among protesters of Cayman Islands tax shelter

Courtesy photo
American protestors with CODEPINK joined together in the Cayman Islands to speak out against American businessmen and investors using the island nation's banks as an off-shore tax haven.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston counselor Annette Zavareei was one of 100 Americans who protested in front of a building in the Cayman Islands that is the official headquarters for 18,857 corporations, allowing their owners to save billions of dollars in taxes.

During a week-long Caribbean cruise hosted by The Nation magazine, Zavareei and 100 of her fellow passengers left the cruise ship on Dec. 13 to protest in front of the Ugland House, a waterfront building which those corporations list as their official headquarters.

CODEPINK -- a movement initiated by women to protest wars and social injustice -- led the protest in George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands.

The marchers in George Town chanted: "Hiding money is a crime. Tax evaders should be doing time." (A video of the march is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkr2Z2DavDI.)

They held up signs stating: "Bring Our Tax Dollars Home" and "We Want Our Money Back."

"I belong to CODEPINK, and I knew there was going to be a demonstration when I went on the cruise. It was planned," Zavareei said.

"CODEPINK tries to be outrageous to get attention for their issues. We had a demonstration when [Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu came to Washington, D.C. That demonstration included some Palestinians who were dancing to get attention."

CODEPINK members recently protested during a National Rifle Association event.

The Cayman Islands drew some attention during last year's presidential race.

"When Mitt Romney was running for president, the issue of tax shelters and multimillionaires making their money here and hiding it in the Cayman Islands began to be talked about," said Zavareei, who lives in Charleston's Fort Hill neighborhood.

Romney had substantial investments based in the Caymans.

"The same people who are hiding their profits on the Cayman Islands are people talking about cutting Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and educational spending," Zavareei said. "The purpose of our demonstration was to bring attention to this issue.

"I thought it was fantastic. How positively we were received by people on the Cayman Islands really intrigued me. It is a beautiful island in the middle of nowhere. But it isn't really meant to be a tourist resort. There are not any huge restaurants there."

On July 23, Forbes magazine published an article about a study finding at least $21 trillion in offshore investments made by wealthy Americans in countries like the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.

The study was written by James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey and Co., a global-management consulting firm based in New York. Henry's study was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a group based in England.

The cruise ship stayed in the Cayman Islands for only a few hours.

The ship accommodates up to 3,000 people, Zavareei said. About 500 passengers were part of the cruise sponsored by The Nation magazine, which featured guests such as John Nichols from MSNBC, author Chris Hayes and singer Joan Baez.

"There was no threat from the police to arrest us," Zavareei said. "And there was no reaction from people inside the building."

The cruise ship spent most of its time docked in Honduras and Jamaica.

Zavareei said she found out about CODEPINK after her husband died.

Hassan Zavareei, an economics professor at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, died in June 2008. Born in Iran in 1940, he moved to the United States when he was 20.

He returned to Iran in 1977 to study the growing democratic movements against the Shah's dictatorial government. Hassan was then detained for several weeks by the Shah's secret police.

"I have been trying to go to Iran to bring my husband's ashes back. I thought it would be easy, because they had a dual citizenship policy," Zavareei said.

That policy allows people who become citizens in other countries to keep their citizenship in Iran.

"I found out about CODEPINK during that process. They had gone to the Middle East for at least a dozen peace missions, including Iran and Afghanistan. Gaza is their big issue.

"Eventually, I want to go with them on one of those trips. The founders of the group -- Jodie Evans and Medea Banjamin -- are both Jewish. Peace in the Middle East is an issue that needs to be solved," Zavareei said.

Evans said, as reported on CODEPINK's website, "The U.S. deficit could be solved with the $150 billion a year that could be recovered from these offshore tax shelters."

Benjamin said, "That's why we are here, in the Cayman Islands, to demand that corporations such as Exxon, McDonald's, and KBR [formerly Kellogg Brown & Root] bring the tax dollars home."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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