Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Tax Evasion with no paper trail.
The IRS has estimated that $50.0 billion in U.S. tax revenue is lost to evasion annually. Based on data showing the value of high-net-worth individuals and the proportion of their portfolios held offshore, $255.0 billion in worldwide tax revenue is lost annually from U.S. Citizens, and more than $400.0 billion from companies Blaming Undocumented Immigrants guilty of the "outright of Tax Evasion. We need a new IRS commissioner that respects the rule of law and understands that tax reform is needed to fix the problems in the tax code.
The misguided initiative, which would require U.S. financial institutions to automatically report the interest paid to foreign investors, is contrary to U.S economic interests. Faced with a loss of privacy, foreigners will take their money out of American banks, meaning less loan money available for families and businesses.
Fiscal deficits are ballooning now that America and Europe are paying for auto bailouts and stimulus packages, so you'd think their governments would be keener than usual to crack down on tax cheats for the extra billions in revenue it could bring in. They are, but with glacial zeal.
Liechtenstein signed an agreement with U.S. authorities on Monday in which it would, starting Jan. 1, 2010, provide information on U.S. banking clients who are being investigated for dodging tax. The tiny Alpine principality is renowned for allowing the world's wealthy to hide their money and (for some) to dodge the tax man.
Yet while this all sounds like good news, it is still miles away from the easy information sharing that's needed to help stop tax evaders. The so-called Tax Information Exchange Agreement that Liechtenstein has signed is notoriously difficult to use: a similar agreement between the island of Jersey and the United States was signed in 2002, yet has been used only four times.
The problem is that American authorities need to be armed with substantial evidence on a banking client before Liechtenstein will hand over any information, and that is nearly impossible considering that most tax evaders work hard to ensure they leave no paper trail. A spokesman for the principality told Forbes.com that "fishing expeditions," in which U.S. authorities would seek significant amounts of information in order to identify tax evaders, would not be possible.
Richard Murphy Founder of tax consultancy Tax Research, said Monday's agreement would at least help act as a deterrent to wealthy people who were looking for a place to hide their money from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or other tax agencies: they may instead opt for Dubai, Singapore or Switzerland. The move also puts pressure on Switzerland to sign a similar agreement. "It's a symbolic move and it's a disincentive, but it's not going to be used that often," he said.
More significant would be the passing of a law that calls for full automatic information exchange from offshore tax havens. The European Union published its revised savings tax directive on Nov. 13, which proposes just that, and while it could still be years before a law is finally passed, that proposal has the support of Europe's Council of Finance Ministers.