Panama-US Tax Treaty: A Diversion

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I continue to get lots of mail about the new USA-Panama Tax Information Exchange Treaty that was actually signed last week and was the subject of my earlier blog posting. This has certainly stirred up a hornets ne’st in terms of Panamanian offshore banks, law firms and corporate service providers.

One thing that is rather irritating as a writer is when people say “such and such a person doesn’t agree with you, here’s the link” … when in fact they don’t even know what I think, and the person writing the other link probably also has some hidden agenda like collecting taxes, or like selling consulting services to move to another jurisdiction.

What I said last week was in essence that while I hadn’t seen the treaty yet, I didn’t think there was cause for immediate alarm for my clients. I also explained that I had written an article explaining my position in the next Q Wealth Report that is due out next week in the Members Area.

Now the treaty is actually signed and published. You can download it here. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it is retroactive to 2007. That is, the US can now demand information dating back to 2007 from Panama relating to tax investigations. Panama, in theory, can demand the same from the US on Panamanian tax evaders.

This is certainly bad news for those American taxpayers who may have set up non-compliant structures in the past and opened accounts with Panamanian banks. Such individuals need to take expert legal advice urgently. With the approaching holiday season the few US attorneys who actually know anything about this are going to be super busy/unavailable. I hate to say I told you so, but the people in trouble are going to be the ones who tried to save a thousand bucks on set-up fees by going with cheap internet-based ‘lawyers’ who try to sell important financial structures as if they were groceries.

In the case of our consulting firm, we can refer clients to licensed US attorneys if necessary, but we like to do a confidential consultation through our firm first. This generally saves the client a lot in attorney’s fees compared to going direct to an attorney, as we are able to brief the attorney fully on the situation. Sometimes we can even do so anonymously.

Let’s be very clear on one thing. Neither Q Wealth nor my consulting firm has ever recommended tax evasion. We find the principle of stealing people’s privacy in order to collect taxes to fund things like bailouts, unnecessary wars and high level corruption extremely distasteful. That is the direction we are coming from. But if you want to live in or be a citizen of a country, you have to follow its rules. Not to do so would be plain stupid, because they are more powerful than you are.

IT’S SO EASY TO OPT OUT OF TAXES LEGALLY

It’s really so easy to opt out of taxes and government control legally if you don’t like things the way they are. Americans have it slightly harder than our other readers because they have to opt out of citizenship, not just residence. This, of course, is unjust in itself. Anyone else can just make the move.

There’s a world of choice out there. First there are the well-known tax havens like Monaco and Andorra. Several of our clients have gone down to Nevis recently in search of instant second citizenship that come with purchasing real estate there. Then there are countries like Dominican Republic or Paraguay where it’s cheap to get a residence permit, you don’t have to stay there much, and there are no taxes on foreign sourced income. Then, there are mainstream countries like France, Spain or Canada where – with good pre-immigration offshore tax and asset protection planning – a foreigner can live almost tax-free and unmolested.

I would take this opportunity to remind you that if you are looking at citizenship and residence in Paraguay, I’ll be there in January. Why not make it your new year’s resolution to obtain an official foreign residence and start the clock ticking on a second passport, that could solve all your troubles once and for all and help you sleep better at night? Details here.


“THE OECD STUFF IS A FIG LEAF, A DIVERSION”

While we are on the boring but somehow important subject of tax information exchange treaties, here’s something interesting that happened this week, that was not widely reported.

Tax Justice Network is a group who want all the world’s governments to join together in collecting taxes. Apparently they believe that if there were no tax competition, no bank secrecy and a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to taxes, there would be no poor people in the world any more. Such utopian ideas may appear beyond help to pragmatic realists like us… but they do have an interesting blog.

This week, they finally admitted they might be wrong. An anonymous person, not me but someone clearly benefiting from an intimate understanding of private banking and politics, wrote them a tirade which I agree 100% with – and they admitted might actually be right. Here are some selected extracts:

The OECD stuff is a fig leaf, a diversion. The real power mongers want the whole system to keep going, and to put out these diversions. While they are all doing all this stuff for the popular press, for the NGO world and Civil Society who don’t know how it works from the inside – at the same time they are saying to their clients (as on the BFSB website) ‘all is hunky dory in the world of confidentiality.’ They are all saying to their clients: it is business as usual.”

It is a fee-earning opportunity too – I don’t have any statistics on this – but you can say to your clients: ‘just for an extra level of safety, we can restructure your accounts to this or that other centre, or in this other structure’, and then they can charge fees for it.

You can read the whole blog entry here. I suggest you do.

This is Peter again. Panama is a country with an amazing amount of intrigue. I think it has something to do with the heat and humidity. Personally, I love it. What is said on paper is not usually what happens in practice. Once you understand that, and combine it with other countries to create a multi-jurisdictional structure, you can turn it to your advantage. If you don’t understand how Panama works, it is dangerous.

All this hype about tax treaties, that came out of nowhere a week or two ago, is certainly a diversion. If the US had wanted tax information on US citizens from Panama before, they could have got it just as easily as they will now be able to get it. This is all about show. The way is now paved for another round of the IRS voluntary compliance program that has been targeting Switzerland and UBS until recently, and we will certainly see more of this and other jurisdictions targeted during 2011.

In the meantime the USA will continue to haemorrhage funds, because smart businesspeople (and Americans are nothing if not smart business people) see that their money will be better off elsewhere.

TJN ended by quoting the latest Le Carre novel:

“Money’s got no smell as long as there’s enough if it and it’s ours. Above all, think big. Catch the minnows, but leave the sharks in the water. A chap’s laundering a couple of million? He’s a bloody crook. Call in the regulators, put him in irons. But a few billion? Now, you’re talking.”

Bear all this in mind when you look to manage your wealth and offshore investments.

If you haven’t yet read our Free Report on Panama, do so now. It explains some of the hidden truths of doing business in Panama. It was written before the tax information treaty was announced, but it’s still essential reading for anyone looking to invest offshore in Panama.

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