Is this the end for treasure islands – MoneyWeek


Whatcountsasahaven?

Theresnouniversaldefinition:taxhavenisacontestedconceptandnohalf-decenttaxhavenwouldadmittobeingone。

TherearejustthreestatesontheOrganisationforEconomicCo-operationandDevelopments(OECD)officialblacklistofunco-operativetaxhavens–Monaco,LiechtensteinandAndorra。

Bycontrast,theUSStopTaxHavenAbuseAct–justbeginningitspassagethroughCongress–namessome40countries。

(Criticspointoutthat60%oftheFortune500choosetoregisterintinyDelaware,withitsbusiness-friendlytaxesandregulation。

)Still,mostdefinitionsagreethattaxhavensofferloworzerotaxes,combinedwithsecrecyofpersonalinformationandalackoftransparencyinthelegalframeworkgoverningthetaxregime。

Isthatabadthing?

Itdependsonwhetheryouthinkbusinessesandwealthyindividualsshouldbeallowedtoavoidpayingthesameshareoftaxaseveryoneelse。

Avoidingtaxbychannellinglossesthroughhigh-taxregimesandprofitsthroughlow-taxonesisnowaroutinepartoflifeforglobalbusinesses–indeed,somewouldargueitispartoftheirdutytomaximisereturnstoshareholders。

LloydsTSBhasmorethan100subsidiariesandotherundertakingsinJersey,theCaymanIslands,Gibraltar,Panama,theBritishVirginIslandsandtheBahamas。

RBShasatleast128andBarclays125。

Thisisthelegalfaceoftaxhavens。

Butthebaldtruthisthattaxhavensdeliberatelysetouttounderminelegislationpassedinotherjurisdictions。

Assuch,attheleasttheyfostersecrecyandcomplexity,andatworsttheyenablemoneylaundering,organisedcrimenetworks,andterrorism。

WhatsBritainsview?

GordonBrownhasbeensomethingofaheel-dragger,giventheCityofLondonscloserelationshipwithseveralkeytaxhavens。

(ThishasledtochargesofhypocrisyfromtheLibDemsVinceCableandothers。

)Butinthepastfewweeksthemoodhaschanged–perhapsbecause,likemostgovernments,hessuddenlydesperatetograbeverybitofrevenuehelegallycan。

TaxhavensarehighontheagendafortheLondoneconomicsummitnextmonth,andinhisbigspeechtotheUSCongressBrowncalledfortheworldtocometogethertooutlawtaxhavens–echoingObamasrhetoric。

Canyououtlawtaxhavens?

Well,asRichardMurphyofTaxJusticeNetworkwrylyputsit,youcantjusttellLuxembourgithasbeenoutlawed。

Taxhavensareindependentstatesandcanmaketheirownlaws:itsonethingtoencourageothercountriestoclampdownontaxevasion,butquiteanothertostopthemencouragingbusinessandwealthyindividualstotheirshoresbyofferingalow-tax,light-touchenvironment。

Defenderswouldarguethatplentyofwhatgoesonintaxhavensislegitimate,thataglobalisedeconomybenefitsfromdiscreetoffshorecentresactingasconduitsattractingcapitaltotheirlargerneighbours(suchastheChannelIslands),andthattaxhavensaresmallcountriesthatwouldotherwisebepoor(suchastheCaymanIslands)。

Sowhatcanbedone?

GeneralCharlesdeGaulleoncelostpatiencewithMonacoovertaxfraudandcutoffitswatersupply。

Itquicklybackeddown。

IftheUSandEUwantedtoplayhardball,theycouldshutdowntaxhavensbythreateningtoseverbankingconnections。

Thatsunlikely,asashockonthisscaleisntwhatthebankingsystemneedsrightnow。

Buttheresnodoubtpoliticiansaredeterminedtoforcealong-termchangeintheglobaltaxsystem,obligingallsecrecystatestobemoretransparentabouttheidentitiesofthesuper-richandcorporationswhousethem。

Still,itsunlikelysmallstateswhoseethisasanadvantagewillgiveitupwithoutafight。

Howmuchdotaxhavenscost?

Ifthereslittleagreementonwhatconstitutesataxhaven,theresevenlessonhowmuchrevenuestatesloseeachyearcourtesyofthetreasureislands。

TheGuardiancitesanestimated£13trnofuntaxedwealthheldinoffshorecentres。

Recentestimatesoftheresultingtaxlosstonationalgovernmentsinclude$160bn(ChristianAid),$255bn(thePope)andeven$900bn(GlobalFinancialIntegrity)。

TheUSTreasurysaysitloses$100bnayear。

InBritain,RevenueCustomsputsthelossincorporationtaxtotaxhavensatbetween£3。

7bnand£13bn。

WhatiscertainisthatathirdofFTSE100companiespaidnoUKcorporationtaxin2005-6,andanotherthirdpaidaminisculepercentageoftheirprofits。

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