The Artful Tax Dodger: $21T in Cash Stuffed into Your Favorite Vacation Locales

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained a telling hard drive of 2.5 million files on worldwide tax havens that operate to evade (or more nicely, avoid) taxes to your local governments.

From ICIJ website:

They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran’s nuclear-development program.
The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.

The Corporate Tax Holiday Failure

This trick is pulled off by the loop poles in various country’s tax code, but from my perspective, the United States code, that spans more than 20,000,000 words, is at issue. (Winston Churchill wrote less in his lifetime; and he wrote voluminously.) The code was written piece-meal, and backward looking, by legislators not really all that interested in capturing taxes (would you if you too must pay? And: you are rich?), but instead go through the motions of providing good tax laws.

In October 2004, after Bush & the Republican-controlled Congress had first lower taxes on the top earners, cut capital gains, moved inheritance taxes downward, a tax holiday was provided so large U.S companies under the all-too-familiarly mislabeled American Jobs Creation Act introduced a temporary repatriation tax holiday. A few of the results:
Pfizer                   $37 billion;     10,000 layoffs
Merck                  $15.9 billion;    7,000
Hewlett-Packard $14.5 billion;   14,500
Honeywell           $2.7 billion;      2,000
Ford                     $900 million;  30,000
Colgate-Palmolive $800 million; 30,000
Source: (VILLANOVA LAW REVIEW, Vol 56, pg. 845)

Moreover, the holiday just allowed CEOs to reward stockholders, shell out bonuses, while sending the laborers packing for the unemployment line as our friends at the WS Journal reported benignly about this failed policy. (Those laborers then fired up their ATMs – their newly bought homes at subprime teaser rates destined to lose value – and well, we know the rest of the story.)

Size & Methods:Double Dutch, Anyone?

But back to taxes. As people get rich, or a multinational corporation (MNC) grows substantially, the tendency to seek tax havens and avoidance methods grow. This would not irk on its face, except that many of these bandits are garnering such benefits from ill-gotten gains or exploiting capital markets and public commons to pad their bottom line, shifting it abroad, then waiting for a tax holiday or a change in law to sneak it back to a home country, if so desired.

Meanwhile, the 7 Billion other people on this planet pay taxes, build their capital plants, drive their limos, allow their kids into elite universities, and get no tax holiday, ever. The point here is not to paint every rich person or corporation the same, but it is to reflect some investigation into where these entities are earning these large profits or monies from is in order.

The magnitude of the problem can be grasped by looking at the Tax Justice Network report and this recent story by the tax-averse Wall Street Journal on corporate use of techniques such as the Double Irish Dutch Sandwich : An appealing way to avoid any tax through politically-stable, user-friendly, and otherwise nondescript enough English speaking places.

By creating a foreign shell company, transferring intellectual property (an advertising algorithm) to say Dublin, Ireland, make a loan back to the Parent U.S. company for interest paid to the Dublin outfit, that reduces taxes plenty by shifting assets abroad, and creating a loan. Better yet, run the business (on paper, mind you) from a P.O. Box in Bermuda, and this trick gets you zero taxation. If you must produce something abroad in say, China, then route the money through another subsidiary in Killarney, Ireland, pump that through the Netherlands P.O. Box, negating withholding, and back your Bermuda triangle hut, waiting for checks and Mai Tais on the beach.

The price to the economy: $21 Trillion or more on the personal taxation side; $1.3 Trillion on U.S. corporations alone in 2013.

Shell Game OVER?

Corporation taxation should really annoy as these super corps gained access to capital markets (and in 2008, bailout cash, lest we forget: GE Capital was listed on the Wall Street Journal report) and utilize all the commons to support their operations: university talent provided by us, airports for CEOs, roads for logistics, rail, dockyards, and the court system to protect precious intellectual property, trade secrets, brand names, and inventions. But access to capital – loans from U.S. based banks and listing on the stock market – are things they would lack to grow bigger and more lobby-lustful, to change whatever policy puts a damper on their corporate returns.

The individual side is equally destructive, and more secretive, which is why the recent news will shock and awe these people.

The game should be over.

 But, alas, that will not be the case. I know politicians will bluster and put on the show, but like Steroids, and The Wall Street credit Bubble Fiasco, what really lasts is just a dog-n-pony show to keep the MASSES in check, no quite ready to REVOLT against their overseers.

Many are the politicians, power players, and Wall Street and High Street leaders listed below.

  • 21 current and former members of ING’s board of directors were among the leaked offshore records, which show that both banks helped set up dozens of offshore companies for clients.
  • Swiss bank account opened for Mongolian former Finance Minister Sangajav Bayartsogt acknowledged “I should not have opened that account,” and disclosed that it held $1 million at one point.
  • Georgian billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili after he was listed as a past director of an offshore company created 2006 in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Canada’s Pana Merchant was the beneficiary of an offshore trust set up in the Cook Islands by her husband, Regina class-action lawyer Tony Merchant.
  • Imee Marcos, is the governor of a northern Philippine province. She failed to report that she’s the beneficiary of an offshore trust on her annual disclosure statements. (Remember Ferdinand)

The economic impact of 10% tax on 21 Trillion would be huge, and that is the worst part. We need to fix things – and the money, as we KNOW now, IS there.

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