Friday, May 03, 2013

Will the UK's tax haven agreements be an exercise in missing the point?

This morning we posted a long blog looking at an important new paper on the subject of information exchange. In it, we included some of our own analysis about the Uk's rather odd role in all of this. Since that was a pretty long blog, and not everyone will have had time to read down to the relevant section, we will paste it as a stand-alone here, slightly expanded. It ran as follows:
The UK's announcement yesterday that its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies would move forwards on tax transparency leave big unanswered questions. The press release trumpets that "much greater levels of information about bank accounts will be exchanged on a multilateral basis," which is in itself an improvement.
But - and this is potentially a large but - gigantic secrecy jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands are not about bank deposits. They are about entities and structures such as secret companies.
Now are these addressed? Take this, first, related to the 'much greater levels of information":
"This also includes information on certain accounts held by entities, such as trusts."
OK, so what does that mean? "Certain accounts"? Will this include, say, accounts held in insurance wrappers, or in discretionary trusts or Liechtenstein foundations?
Second, the short UK announcement adds this:
"These jurisdictions have, as well as this, committed to taking action to ensure they are at the forefront of transparency on company ownership."
We are not sure what that means. The devil may well be in the detail, and to be frank we at TJN do not trust the British government to do the right thing on tax havens, given the appalling history (also see this, a couple of pages in).
Is this going to end up being an exercise in missing the point?  We sincerely don't know, as we don't have the details. But we, and we hope many others, will want to look at the details very carefully.

If you have time, please do read that longer blog on the new paper, which helps provide a lot of illuminating context and detail about the rapid changes that are now sweeping the tax haven world.

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