On May 21, 2013, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing that is a continuation of a series of reviews conducted by the Subcommittee on how individual and corporate taxpayers are shifting billions of dollars offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. The hearing will examine how Apple Inc., a U.S. multinational corporation, has used a variety of offshore structures, arrangements, and transactions to shift billions of dollars in profits away from the United States and into Ireland, where Apple has negotiated a special corporate tax rate of less than two percent. One of Apple’s more unusual tactics has been to establish and direct substantial funds to offshore entities in Ireland, while claiming they are not tax residents of any jurisdiction. For example, Apple Inc. established an offshore subsidiary, Apple Operations International, which from 2009 to 2012 reported net income of $30 billion, but declined to declare any tax residence, filed no corporate income tax return, and paid no corporate income taxes to any national government for five years. A second Irish affiliate, Apple Sales International, received $74 billion in sales income over four years, but due in part to its alleged status as a non-tax resident, paid taxes on only a tiny fraction of that income.
If you’re trying to set up an untraceable shell corporation, your best bet may no no longer be a tax haven or some far away island nation. According to a surprising new study, developed countries like the U.S. and Canada are among the easiest places in the world to set up the kind of anonymous shell corporation that could be used for money laundering, terrorist financing and other nefarious activities. In contrast, known tax havens like the Seychelles, Bahamas and the Cayman Islands all present far more obstacles to the establishment of untraceable corporate structures due to their more stringent compliance with international regulations. In fact, the study found that U.S.-based incorporation services provide one of the easiest routes to establishing an anonymous shell corporation, with only Kenya surpassing the U.S. in terms of noncompliance.
America stands on the edge of a fiscal cliff. This challenge lends new urgency to a topic this subcommittee has long investigated: how U.S. citizens and corporations have used loopholes and gimmicks to avoid paying taxes. This subcommittee has demonstrated in hearings and comprehensive reports how various schemes have helped shift income to offshore tax havens and avoid U.S. taxes. The resulting loss of revenue is one significant cause of the budget deficit, and adds to the tax burden that ordinary Americans bear.
The indictment of the Swiss bank Wegelin & Co. and several affiliated persons for conspiring to aid wealthy U.S. clients evade taxes, February 2012.
Every year, U.S. officials from agencies with anti-money laundering responsibilities meet to assess the money laundering situations in 200 jurisdictions. The review includes an assessment of the significance of financial transactions in the country‘s financial institutions involving proceeds of serious crime, steps taken or not taken to address financial crime and money laundering, each jurisdiction‘s vulnerability to money laundering, the conformance of its laws and policies to international standards, the effectiveness with which the government has acted, and the government‘s political will to take needed actions.
The federal government loses both individual and corporate income tax revenue from the shifting of profits and income into low-tax countries, often referred to as tax havens. The revenue losses from this tax avoidance and evasion are difficult to estimate, but some have suggested that the annual cost of offshore tax abuses may be around $100 billion per year. International tax avoidance can arise from large multinational corporations who shift profits into low-tax foreign subsidiaries or wealthy individual investors who set up secret bank accounts in tax haven countries.
Since the 1990s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has pursued the issues of bribery and tax havens, resulting in changes to certain U.S. laws. In addition, the OECD, under the direction of its member countries, spearheaded an international agreement to outlaw crimes of bribery, and it continues to coordinate efforts aimed at reducing the occurrence of money laundering, corruption, and tax havens.
Eighty-three of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations in terms of 2007 revenue reported having subsidiaries in jurisdictions listed as tax havens or financial privacy jurisdictions. Sixty-three of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. federal contractors in terms of fiscal year 2007 federal contract obligations reported having subsidiaries in such jurisdictions. Since subsidiaries may be established in listed jurisdictions for a variety of nontax business reasons, the existence of a subsidiary in a jurisdiction listed as a tax haven or financial privacy jurisdiction does not signify that a corporation or federal contractor established that subsidiary for the purpose of reducing its tax burden.