Investigating Tax Havens in Mauritius

A course on the Panama Papers gave Jagtaran Singh ’17 LL.M. hands-on experience in offshore financial dealings.

Halfway through his LL.M. at Columbia Law School, Jagtaran Singh ’17 LL.M. found himself representing a far-flung client: the Republic of Mauritius.

Having spent three years as a commercial litigator in his native Toronto, Singh was at Columbia to immerse himself in public interest, governance, and international law. One of four LL.M.s taking an inaugural course about the Panama Papers at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (as a Columbia LL.M., students are invited to take courses at other schools), he studied the wide-ranging implications of that massive 2015 leak of confidential financial documents.

Under the supervision of Jenik Radon, an adjunct professor at SIPA who co-taught the course, and the capstone workshops program, Singh and a delegation of students traveled to Mauritius for 10 days, tasked with advising the island’s Financial Services Commission.

On Mauritius, Singh and his classmates conducted interviews with stakeholders and met with lawyers, wealth management firms, and NGOs, analyzing whether the country meets the criteria of being a tax haven. “It was one of those very, very cool situations where you got to learn a great deal about complex financial legal issues and ideas, but also at the same time [it’s] very public interest oriented,” he said, noting that offshore financial dealings can be “incredibly unsavory.”

Singh grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, in a family where the social justice aspect of Sikh philosophy was emphasized. During his year in Morningside Heights, he was determined to cast a wide net, moving his career from the private sector and into public advocacy work.

In addition to taking courses such as Civil Rights Lawyering in the Modern Era, Singh also worked as a student advocate for New York City’s Homeless Legal Clinic and was a junior political adviser for the Permanent Mission of Canada at the United Nations.

“It sounds kind of cliché, but the idea that you walk through those doors, and quite literally you represent your country, is big,” he says of his time at the U.N. “Maybe it goes away after a while. But there’s something to be said for the fact that you get to work with your government at that level.”

As he completes the New York Bar, Singh says he is weighing his next career move.

“It was important for me to practice law for a little bit,” he says of his time as a corporate litigator on Toronto’s Bay Street. “I maintain that I really enjoy litigation and practicing law, but there’s a strong possibility I may move into something a bit more governance-based or public interest action–based.

“The key thing for me was learning how to be a proper advocate,” he adds. “You learn a great deal of that by being a lawyer. But you also learn when you come to places like Columbia and you add to that knowledge, that there’s a great deal of advocacy that’s involved outside of the courtroom, as well.”


Posted on August 15, 2017