Wednesday, February 18, 2009

International Tax: The New Hunt For Tax Havens

From Web CPA:

Congressional leaders are looking to clamp down on offshore tax havens after a Government Accountability Office report found that 83 of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations have subsidiaries in jurisdictions listed as tax havens or financial privacy jurisdictions, while 63 of the 100 largest publicly traded federal contractors reported having subsidiaries in such jurisdictions.

"This report shows that some of our country's largest companies and federal contractors, many of which are household names, continue to use offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes to the U.S. And some of those companies have even received emergency economic funds from the government," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "I think we should take action to shut down these tax dodgers and we will be introducing legislation to do just that."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., echoed Dorgan: "We must get to the bottom of activities such as the following: Citigroup has set up 427 tax haven subsidiaries to conduct its business, including 91 in Luxembourg, 90 in the Cayman Islands, and 35 in the British Virgin Islands. Hundreds more tax haven subsidiaries operate under strict secrecy laws in places like Switzerland, Hong Kong, Panama and Maurituius."

Levin, who chairs the U.S. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, has made offshore tax abuse a major subject of its investigations.

Robert Gallagher, managing editor of WG&L Journal of International Taxation at Thomson Reuters, observed that the GAO study "correctly notes that there is no agreed-on definition or list of 'tax havens.' Instead, they cobbled together their list from three old ones."

The GAO said that while there is no agreement on a definition, various governmental, international and academic sources used similar characteristics to define and identify tax havens: "Some of the characteristics included no or nominal taxes; a lack of effective exchange of information with foreign tax authorities; and a lack of transparency in legislative, legal or administrative provisions."

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