Last fall’s presidential election shed light on the issue of offshore tax havens. Thanks to the fact that, as a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney was forced to reveal his income tax returns, many people now better understand how the world’s wealthiest people avoid taxes by stashing their often ill-gotten fortunes offshore. According to the Tax Justice Network, up to $32 trillion in assets are stashed in a country where the owner of those assets has no legal or tax residence.
The primary reasons for sending assets offshore? Tax avoidance and money laundering.
Most of the countries housing the assets are chosen for their secrecy, their low tax rates and willingness to help the wealthy get around the laws of their own countries. Of course, Switzerland is the most famous of these tax shelters and, not surprisingly, the largest in terms of offshore assets. Others, in descending order, are Hong Kong/Singapore, Ireland/Channel Islands, Caribbean/Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States (yes, some time in the 1980’s, we changed our tax laws to create tax havens for non-US citizens), Monaco/Dubai/Luxembourg and assorted other playgrounds for the rich.
An investigative series on offshore money by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposed the extent of “the global offshore money maze.” And it’s not just shady business tycoons who take advantage of offshore tax havens. Those who stash their money in other countries include royal families, bankers, celebrities, lawyers, politicians, doctors, publishers, mercenaries, hackers, drug lords and more.
The practice may not be illegal. But it is unethical and highly destructive to the countries where the money was obtained. Meanwhile, people like you and me make up for the taxes the wealthy avoid.