No, it’s NOT the beginning of the end for tax havens, but they will be slightly different… by Shannon Roxborough for The Q Wealth Report
Mistakenly viewed primarily as playgrounds of the ultra-rich, vehicles for tax evasion and shelters of the proceeds of criminal activity, the 40 some territories around the globe that are considered tax havens have been receiving some unwelcome attention lately.
It has, in fact, been a rough past year or so for the world’s low-tax and offshore centers. They are finding themselves increasingly in the crosshairs of the cash-strapped G-20 and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based bureaucracy run by high-tax nations such as the United States, UK, Germany and France.
Desperate to prop up their ailing economies, these countries are aggressively seeking to replace some of the trillions in taxpayer money that been used for stimulus packages and handed over to corporate interests in the form of bailouts.
In the latest escalation of the war on fiscal shelters, in their zeal to track down wealthy tax evaders, industrialized nations are intent on shredding privacy laws the world over. Half a dozen countries from Switzerland to Hong Kong have already caved to international pressure and threats of sanctions, agreeing to lift the veils of secrecy that have shrouded them for decades, and in some cases, centuries.
The momentum against tax havens started picking up speed last year thanks to U.S. Senator Carl Levin, a long-time foe of offshore tax havens, who insists they deprive government coffers of $100 billion in annual revenues and says “Tax havens are engaged in economic warfare against the United States and honest, hard-working Americans”—some argue that high total U.S. tax burden, which wipes out about half of most Americans’ incomes, is economic warfare.
The U.S. Congress last March began zeroing in on Swiss bank secrecy after UBS admitted helping American clients conceal assets from the government. The OECD recently blacklisted Switzerland and a number of other countries and jurisdictions because they “do not furnish banking information to tax authorities of other countries within the framework of income tax evasion.”
The truth is this political effort is not so much about snaring tax cheats as it is about the bigger picture: the long-term goal of destroying tax havens. Why? The answer is simple: tax-happy nations fear fiscal havens because they promote tax competition, financial privacy and fiscal sovereignty, all of which limit the ability of governments to act as monopolies.
Even with the stepped up efforts of their opponents, all is not lost. The growing coalition of world leaders may be softening some tax havens’ traditional codes of silence, causing the pillars of secrecy surrounding financial transactions to crumble, but most who use these sanctuaries to privately safeguard their assets, run their businesses and protect themselves and future generations have little to worry about (unless they happen to be on one of the clients lists that are being handed over to authorities).
Tax havens will continue to play a critical role in global finance for the foreseeable future. Besides, for those with real concerns about the security of their assets and holdings, there are many other privacy-conscious and tax-friendly places that manage to fly under the radar of financial watchdogs, providing the perks of tax havens without the scrutiny.
In the coming issue the Q Wealth Report, I’ll provide insights into one such place—a little-known lifestyle haven that doubles as an unlikely tax refuge.
Shannon Roxborough, editor and publisher of the global lifestyle magazine Borderless Living, is former correspondent with Money magazine. A widely-published writer and international consultant, he in an expert on living and retiring abroad and offshore planning. Visit www.BorderlessLiving.com.