And today’s topic is……..tax havens!

February 23, 2011

Hello again!

Well – I thought that after the recent demonstrations against Top Shops’  big boy – it was worth a  deeper delve into the mire of the tax haven. That quiet corner of the universe that swallows up huge chunks of cash that hasn’t been filtered via the tax-man first. That area of taxation where Generally Accepted Accounting Principles have no meaningful place in the world. I’m not just going to look at HMRC (that’s Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to the uninitiated) but also at what has been happening on a global scale. There’s lots of places to look because the world is becoming disgruntled – hence the demonstrations –  between those who have and those who don’t have. The mega-rich and the would-be-mega-rich will always attempt to cling onto their earnings (illicit or otherwise) by paying as little tax as they can get away with. Offshore means – what? Its’s the most convoluted and financially complex way of organising money that the world has, in order to divert it away from taxation.

Let’s start with the band U2 for instance. Bono, the lead singer, is always banging on about political freedom and ending global poverty. But when it comes down to his own wealth management – what does he do? Well, let’s see now………..End Tax Haven Secrecy has an opinion here http://www.endtaxhavensecrecy.org/en/2011/02/10/thank-you-bono-now-push-this-to-its-logical-conclusion/ and so does Bridge Over Troubled Waters, here: http://bridgeovertroubledwaters.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/bonos-tax-haven-is-robbing-the-poor/. This issue with U2 isn’t new and goes way back to 2005, when it was first highlighted that the band use offshore financial structures to avoid paying tax in Ireland where they are registered. Is this a case of do what I say and not what I do? Bono’s political rants are legendary, so he’s an easy target for criticism. Even if you do a quick search, there’s a lot of information out there. Another consideration to add to the mix, is that Ireland is a tax haven in its own right, so the Netherlands must be offering an added bonus for taking Bono’s wedge…………

You can check out the Global Financial Integrity web site here: http://www.gfip.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=189, but note that their copyright has not been updated to 2011 so err on the side of caution and back up any data that you might use by checking another source for accuracy.

One place I look regularly is on the Tax Justice Network http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcatart=2 and in particular their blogs, which are crammed full of really good information, that can be reliably sourced. I wrote about this web site last October.  http://taxjustice.blogspot.com/ The main web site provides access to global resources and they keep adding to the site with links to other areas and articles covering really interesting subjects such as withholding tax, extraction transparency, financial poverty, illicit flows of finance, country by country reporting and – of course – tax evasion across the world by corporations and individuals alike. There’s so much information that it’s really worth taking the time to have a delve if this is a subject area that interests you. There’a a financial Secrecy Index here:  http://news.financialsecrecyindex.com/Click on the resources tab for an subject index and don’t forget Transparency International’s Corruption Index web pages, which I have written about previously on this blog, and a related anomaly highlighted by TJN here: http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcat=100

Delaware or Isle of Man, Switzerland or Hong Kong? How many tax havens can you name off the top of your head without looking them all up? Actually, don’t bother – it’s all listed here for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_offshore_financial_centres and it’s from Wikipedia, so regular readers will know my opinion on Wikipedia. Beware and use it with care because you don’t know who has compiled the data. One reason I say this is because Wikipedia lists London instead of The City of London specifically as a tax haven, and there’s a very distinct difference.

The OECD also provides a list of “Uncooperative” Tax Havens here: http://www.oecd.org/document/57/0,3746,en_2649_201185_30578809_1_1_1_1,00.html and another page provides excellent data on tax and access to a tax database: http://www.oecd.org/topic/0,3699,en_2649_37427_1_1_1_1_37427,00.html. You can also check out the IMF and the G20 web sites.

So now let’s take a visit to another web site that I like. It’s called Tax-News.com http://www.tax-news.com/ and while it is a fee-based service, it’s the free stuff that I value. The journalists are prolific writers and incredibly knowledgeable, providing articles globally for the interested reader. The coverage isn’t just offshore tax; it covers a massive selection of related tax topics from free trade agreements, to alcohol and cigarette tax, shipping tax, secrecy, gaming legislation, special reports and much more. Each country page will point you at specific areas of taxation. Just dive in, because you will like what you find.

Let’s not forget the business press, such as Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2007/03/15/havens-international-tax-forbeslife-cx_mw_ee_0315taxhavens.html. If you think laterally, there is a wealth of information (pun intended!) in the business press which will include lists such as who’s who offshore and table rankings. See what I mean, here: http://www.forbes.com/2004/04/15/cx_cv_0415feat.html.

The law firms who provide specialist advice on “asset protection arrangements” have lawyers who publish regular legal updates in this area. Look on the Firms’ web sites for free articles and legal updates for legislative changes, especially those who have corporate tax departments like Sullivan & Cromwell or Baker & McKenzie.

And finally, lets take a look at Vodafone in India. What a mess! Even the Bombay High Court can’t sort this one out. It’s related to Vodafone’s purchase of Huchison Whampoa of Hong Hong and the Indian tax authorities’ demand for £1.6bn in capital gains taxes, which it says is owed to them. However, the deal was struck offshore and Vodafone says it is now exempt from paying the tax. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704019604576131410598322674.html

Vodafone also set aside £2.2bn for it’s UK tax bill last year, but then struck a deal with HMRC and paid just £1.25bn in taxes. Of course this has caused outrage  and demonstrations, as reported in the FT: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704019604576131410598322674.html and as reported in many other press reports, including detailed coverage by Private Eye, who thought the bill should have been as much as £6bn.

And so, the world of the offshore tax haven continues to be shrouded in secrecy much as before, despite reports and their protestations that they are opening up to becoming more transparent and more regulated.

As always, your comments and feedback are always welcomed. I’ll be back again soon.

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