Some of the wealthiest of people in the world -politicians, businessmen, film stars and even sports icons among them – have stashed way a staggering 32 trillion US dollars in a few chosen tax havens spread across the globe. There are many Indians among them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes – in order to unearth black money – will not be able to touch them in any way.
The PM’s action targets only small time operators such as those government officials, lower level politicians, minor traders and realtors who make the juvenile mistake of keeping unaccounted money under their beds. Yet even they invest bulk of their money in real estate or jewelry to avoid government scrutiny. Now they will lie low for a couple of months and again return to business once new currency notes are released, feel experts. For them, the Rs 2000 notes the government will introduce will come in handy.
Where do the big fish, including those from India, keep their money to avoid paying taxes in their own countries?
Switzerland is described as the grandfather of world’s tax havens. In September 2015, the Swiss Bankers’ Association reported that banks in their country held the equivalent of $6.5 trillion of which 51 percent originated from abroad. This made Switzerland the world leader in global cross-border asset management, with a 28 percent share of the market.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s fastest growing tax havens. It had $2.1 trillion under management in April 2015 and over $350 billion in private banking assets.
U.S.A provides a wide range of secrecy and tax-free facilities for non-residents, both at a federal level and at the level of individual states. It provides little information to other countries.
Singapore competes with Hong Kong to be Asia’s leading offshore financial center. According to the Boston Consulting Group in 2015, Singapore held around one eighth of the world’s total offshore wealth, and an IMF report in 2014 estimated that over 95 percent of all commercial banks in Singapore are affiliates of foreign banks.
Cayman had banking assets worth $1.4 trillion in June 2014. It hosts over 11,000 mutual and other funds with a net asset value of $2.1 trillion. It has 200 banks, over 140 trust companies and over 95,000 registered companies and is by far the world’s leading domicile for hedge funds, and the second leading domicile for captive insurance companies. Cayman retains a law that can put people in jail not just for revealing confidential information, but merely for asking for it.
Luxembourg has continued to expand its role in helping multinational corporations to avoid paying tax in other countries. It remains a center of lax financial regulation and yet it is one of the world’s most important financial centers. It is the most important private banking and wealth management center in the Eurozone and the world’s second largest investment fund center after the United States with assets under management worth over $2.5 trillion.
Lebanon has many high-net worth individuals including Carlos Slim, the Lebanese-Mexican telecoms tycoon, Carlos Ghosn, the French-Lebanese-Brazilian boss of carmakers Renault and Nissan, and Nicholas Hayek, a Swiss-Lebanese who runs Swatch, the biggest maker of Swiss watches. Lebanon’s offshore financial services sector has been growing at an average of nearly 12 percent per year since 2006, with banking deposits estimated at some $175 billion at the end of 2014.
Germany is one of the safest tax havens in the world. In his book Tax Haven Germany, Markus Meinzer calculated that the amount of tax exempt interest-bearing assets held by non-residents in the German financial system ranged between €2.5 to €3 trillion as of August 2013. Germany does not sufficiently exchange tax-related information. Many foreign-owned assets in Germany are held secretly through elaborate structures spanning secrecy jurisdictions such as Cayman Islands and Switzerland.
Bahrain is one of the biggest global centers for Islamic finance, and hosts the largest concentration of Islamic finance institutions in the Middle East. This sector is growing fast, with total assets in the Islamic banking sector rising from $1.9 billion in 2000 to $25.4 billion by November 2014, according to the Central Bank of Bahrain. There is no corporate income tax, personal income tax or capital gains tax in Bahrain and it has a wide network of tax treaties with a number of developing countries.
Dubai has built on a complex array of free trade zones, a low-tax environment and multiple secrecy facilities and lax enforcement. In addition, Dubai has a strong culture of an ask-no-questions, see-no-evil approach to commercial or financial regulation or foreign financial crimes.
Other prominent tax havens include the Isle of Man, Jersey, Mauritius, Bermuda, Monaco and the Bahamas.
Indians named in Panama papers:
The Panama Papers are 11.5 million leaked documents that detail how wealthy individuals and public officials are able to keep personal financial information private and keep their money in foreign tax havens. These are some of the prominent Indians who have been named in Panama Papers:
Amitabh Bachhan, actor
Aishwrya Rai Bachhan, actor and former Miss World
Vinod Adani, elder brother of businessman Gautam Adani
Jehangir Soli Sorabjee, son of former Attorney General Soli Sorabji
Harish Salve, former Solicitor General and son of Congress leader NKP Salve
Sisir Bajoria, businessman