Offshore Tax Havens: A Good Time to Reconsider

The Times reports today that France has obtained a list of 3,000 account holders at Swiss banks.  This is only days after France and Switzerland reached an agreement to exchange information on French citizens who hold Swiss bank accounts. 

Just last week the U.S. Department of Justice and the I.R.S reached a deal with Switzerland to get the names of 4,450 U.S. account holders who may be suspect of hiding income and assets from Uncle Sam.

And the week before that Britain and Liechtenstein inked a new tax cooperation agreement to allow British account holders the opportunity to disclose their hidden accounts.  British citizens must disclose their accounts to get some leniency for tax evasion and those who do not will be forced to move their money out of Liechtenstein and face the full consequences – back taxes, penalties and possible legal action.

These three events are not coincidental and clearly indicate a growing trend among nations to shore up badly needed tax revenues.  The question is what will happen when the global economy picks up again.  There are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars at stake for countries like the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

Once the tax coffers begin to rely on an increased taxpayer participation rate it would be hard to notice any dramatic reduction.  But that is where I think we could see an eventual pullback to the traditional tax evasion scheme.  It is always that slow and gradual change that proves to be the hardest to see.  A slow but sustained effort to chip away at these new rules and agreements could be just what the banks ordered.

The motivations behind hiding assets from tax authorities can vary from the outright criminal to well justified.  For those parties that use offshore havens to sustain their criminal activities I share no sentiment with you.  Those activities include money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

In the case of tax evasion I take additional exception, as I liken it to you living under my roof and refusing to help pay the rent.    Regardless of the extent to which one may agree or disagree with the tax code, the fact should not be lost that citizenship has its privileges AND responsibilities.  One of those responsibilities being that of helping to pay for the government that protects you, defends your way of life and makes it possible for you to create any wealth in the first place.  Grievances with tax rules should be funneled through the appropriate channels – call your senator not your offshore banker. 

If you are one of those 4,450 lucky winners on that UBS list then you might want to call your local I.R.S agent too, as the Sep. 23 deadline for disclosing those secret accounts is getting close.

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