Offshore bank

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An offshore bank is a bank regulated under international banking license (often called offshore license), which usually prohibits the bank from establishing any business activities in the jurisdiction of establishment. Due to less regulation and transparency, accounts with offshore banks were often used to hide undeclared income. Since the 1980s, jurisdictions that provide financial services to nonresidents on a big scale, can be referred to as offshore financial centres. Since OFCs often also levy little or no tax corporate and/or personal income and offer, they are often referred to as tax havens.

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With worldwide increasing measures on CFT (combatting the financing of terrorism) and AML (anti-money laundering) compliance, the offshore banking sector in most jurisdictions was subject to changing regulations. Since 2000 the Financial Action Task Force issues the so-called FATF blacklist of "Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories" (NCCTs), which it perceived to be non-cooperative in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

An account held in a foreign offshore bank, is often described as an offshore account. Typically, an individual or company will maintain an offshore account for the financial and legal advantages it provides, including:

While the term originates from the Channel Islands being "offshore" from the United Kingdom, and while most offshore banks are located in island nations to this day, the term is used figuratively to refer to any bank used for these advantages, regardless of location. Thus, some banks in landlocked Andorra, Luxembourg, and Switzerland may be described as "offshore banks".

Offshore banking has often been associated with the underground economy [1] and organized crime, [2] tax evasion [3] and money laundering; [4] however, legally, offshore banking does not prevent assets from being subject to personal income tax on interest. Except for certain people who meet fairly complex requirements (such as perpetual travelers), the personal income tax laws of many countries (e.g., France, Malaysia, and the United States) [5] make no distinction between interest earned in local banks and that earned abroad. Persons subject to US income tax, for example, are required to declare, on penalty of perjury, any foreign bank accounts—which may or may not be numbered bank accounts—they may have. Although offshore banks may decide not to report income to other tax authorities and have no legal obligation to do so, as they are protected by bank secrecy, this does not make the non-declaration of the income by the taxpayer or the evasion of the tax on that income legal. Following the 9/11 attacks, there have been many calls to increase regulation on international finance, in particular concerning offshore banks, tax havens, and clearing houses such as Clearstream, based in Luxembourg, which are possible crossroads[ citation needed ] for major illegal money flows.

Offshore banking comparison by jurisdictions

The most popular offshore financial centres are in jurisdictions with a history of political and economic stability. In terms of offshore banking centres and in terms of total deposits, the global market is dominated by Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. A letter by the District Attorney of New York, Robert M. Morgenthau, published by The New York Times , states that the Cayman Islands has US$1.9 trillion on deposit in 281 banks, including 40 of the world's top 50 banks, [6] although official statistics published by the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority suggest the amounts held on deposit are actually around US$1.5 trillion. [7] Numerous other offshore jurisdictions also provide offshore banking to a greater or lesser degree. In particular, Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are known for their well regulated banking infrastructure. [8] Some offshore jurisdictions have steered their financial sectors away from offshore banking, as difficult to properly regulate and liable to give rise to financial scandal. [9]

Weakened bank secrecy

Since starting to survey offshore jurisdictions on April 2, 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at the forefront of a crackdown on tax evasion, will not object to governments using stolen bank data to track down tax evasion in offshore centers, such as in the 2008 Liechtenstein tax affair. The recent sharing of confidential UBS bank details about 285 clients suspected of willful tax evasion by the United States Internal Revenue Service was ruled a violation of both Swiss law and the country's constitution by a Swiss federal administrative court. Nevertheless, OECD has removed 18 countries, including Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, from a so-called "grey list" of countries that did not offer sufficient tax transparency, and has re-categorized them as "white list" countries. Countries that do not comply may face sanctions.

A notable exception is Panama, whose canal provides it with a unique type of immunity to international pressure.[ citation needed ] Given the enlargement of the canal to accommodate larger shipping, it is unlikely that Panama would succumb in the foreseeable future to international pressure toward transparency.[ citation needed ] A team of journalists took in their hands the task of providing data on Panama offshores with the initiative known as the Panama papers. [10]

List of offshore financial centres

Scope of offshore banking

Offshore banking constitutes a sizable portion of the international financial system. Experts believe that as much as half the world's capital flows through offshore centers. Tax havens have 1.2% of the world's population and hold 26% of the world's wealth, including 31% of the net profits of United States multinationals. An estimated £13-20 trillion is hoarded away in offshore accounts. [11]

Some $3 trillion is in deposits in tax haven banks and the rest is in securities held by international business companies (IBCs) and trusts. Among offshore banks, Swiss banks hold an estimated 35% of the world's private and institutional funds (or 3 trillion Swiss francs), and the Cayman Islands (1.9 trillion US dollars in deposits) are the fifth largest banking centre globally in terms of deposits. However, recent data by the Swiss National Bank show that the assets held by foreign persons in Swiss bank accounts declined by 28.1% between January 2008 and November 2009. [12]

Banking advantages

Banking disadvantages

Both offshore and onshore banking centres often have depositor compensation schemes. For example: The Isle of Man compensation scheme [15] guarantees £50,000 of net deposits per individual depositor, or £20,000 for most other categories of depositor. Potential depositors should be aware that any deposits over the guaranteed amount are at risk. However, only offshore centres such as the Isle of Man have refused to compensate depositors 100% of their funds following bank collapses. Onshore depositors have been refunded in full, regardless of what the compensation limit of that country has stated. [16] Thus, banking offshore is historically riskier than banking onshore.

European crackdown

In their efforts to stamp down on cross border interest payments EU governments agreed to the introduction of the Savings Tax Directive in the form of the European Union withholding tax in July 2005. A complex measure, it forced EU resident savers depositing money in any country other than the one they are resident in to choose between forfeiting tax at the point of payment, or allowing notification by the offshore banks to tax authorities in their country of residence. This tax affects any cross border interest payment to an individual resident in the EU.

Furthermore, the rate of tax deducted at source will rise in 2008 and again in 2011, making disclosure increasingly attractive. Savers' choice of action is complex; tax authorities are not prevented from enquiring into accounts previously held by savers which were not then disclosed.

In 2013, the European Union's Economic and Financial Affairs Council passed new European Union (EU) directives that bankers in EU member states will share their clients' identities and transaction records automatically. This action was also encouraged by other important countries such as Australia and the US. This has been reported by most offshore service providers offering services outside of the European Union.

On 27 May 2015, Switzerland signed an agreement with the EU that will align Swiss bank practices with those of EU countries, and in effect will end the special secrecy that EU-resident clients of Swiss banks had enjoyed in the past. Under the agreement, both Switzerland and EU countries will automatically exchange information on the financial accounts of each other's residents from 2018. [20]

Banking services

It is possible to obtain the full spectrum of financial services from offshore banks, including:

Not every bank provides each service. Banks tend to polarise between retail services and private banking services. Retail services tend to be low-cost and undifferentiated, whereas private banking services tend to bring a personalised suite of services to the client.

Scale of potential tax revenue

Assuming even just the lower estimate of £13 trillion on deposit in offshore accounts, if these assets earned an average 3% a year in income for their owners taxable at 30%, then the offshore funds would generate £121 billion in tax revenues, [11] on the assumption that no tax is paid (i.e. no one pays any tax on offshore holdings), and that 100% of those deposits would otherwise have been liable to tax.[ further explanation needed ] Projections are often predicated upon levying tax on the capital sums held in offshore accounts, whereas most national systems of taxation tax income and/or capital gains rather than accrued wealth. [21]

Ownership

According to Merrill Lynch and Capgemini's “World Wealth Report” for 2000, one third of the wealth of the world's “high-net-worth individuals” — nearly $6 trillion out of $17.5 trillion — may now be held offshore. A large portion, £6.3tn, of offshore assets, is owned by only a tiny sliver, 0.001% (around 92,000 super wealthy individuals) of the world's population. In simple terms, this reflects the inconvenience associated with establishing these accounts, not that these accounts are only for the wealthy. Most all individuals can take advantage of these accounts.

Money laundering

The IMF has said that between $600 billion and $1.5 trillion of illicit money is laundered annually, equal to 2% to 5% of global economic output. Today, offshore is where most of the world's drug money is allegedly laundered,[ citation needed ] estimated at up to $500 billion a year, more than the total income of the world's poorest 20%. Add the proceeds of tax evasion and the figure skyrockets to $1 trillion. Another few hundred billion come from fraud and corruption. "These offshore centers awash in money are the hub of a colossal, underground network of crime, fraud, and corruption" commented Lucy Komisar quoting these statistics. [1]

The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal , and The Los Angeles Times revealed that the United States government, specifically the US Treasury Department and the CIA, had a program to access the SWIFT transaction database after the September 11 attacks (see the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program) diminishing the value of offshore banking for privacy.

Regulation of international banks

In the 21st century, regulation of offshore banking is allegedly increasing, although critics maintain it remains largely insufficient. The quality of the regulation is monitored by supra-national bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Banks are generally required to maintain capital adequacy in accordance with international standards. They must report at least quarterly to the regulator on the current state of the business.

Since the late 1990s, especially following September 11, 2001, there have been a number of initiatives to increase the transparency of offshore banking, although critics such as the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC) non-governmental organization (NGO) maintain that they have been insufficient. A few examples of these are:

Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel laureate for economics and former World Bank Chief Economist, told to reporter Lucy Komisar, investigating on the Clearstream scandal:

"You ask why, if there's an important role for a regulated banking system, do you allow a non-regulated banking system to continue? It's in the interest of some of the moneyed interests to allow this to occur. It's not an accident; it could have been shut down at any time. If you said the US, the UK, the major G7 banks will not deal with offshore bank centers that don't comply with G7 banks regulations, these banks could not exist. They only exist because they engage in transactions with standard banks." [1]

In the 1970s through the 1990s, it was possible to own your own personal offshore bank; mobster Meyer Lansky had done this to launder his casino money. Changes in offshore banking regulation in the 1990s in the form of "due diligence" (a legal construct) make offshore bank creation really only possible for medium to large multinational corporations that may be family-owned or -run.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

The economy of the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory located in the western Caribbean Sea, is mainly fueled by the tourism sector and by the financial services sector, together representing 50–60 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, a government agency, has been established with the mandate of promoting investment and economic development in the territory.

Money laundering Process of transforming profits of crime and corruption into ostensibly legitimate assets

Money laundering is the illegal process of concealing the origins of money obtained illegally by passing it through a complex sequence of banking transfers or commercial transactions. The overall scheme of this process returns the "clean" money to the launderer in an obscure and indirect way.

Banking in Switzerland Foreign-friendly bank regulations

Banking in Switzerland dates to the early eighteenth century through Switzerland's merchant trade and has, over the centuries, grown into a complex, regulated, and international industry. Banking is seen as emblematic of Switzerland, along with the Swiss Alps, Swiss chocolate, watchmaking and mountaineering. Switzerland has a long, kindred history of banking secrecy and client confidentiality reaching back to the early 1700s. Starting as a way to protect wealthy European banking interests, Swiss banking secrecy was codified in 1934 with the passage of the landmark federal law, the Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks. These laws, which were used to protect assets of persons being persecuted by Nazi authorities, have also been used by people and institutions seeking to illegally evade taxes, hide assets, or generally commit financial crime.

Shell corporation Company with few, if any, actual assets or operations

A shell corporation is a company or corporation that exists only on paper and has no office and no employees, but may have a bank account or may hold passive investments or be the registered owner of assets, such as intellectual property, or ships. Shell companies may be registered to the address of a company that provides a service setting up shell companies, and which may act as the agent for receipt of legal correspondence. The company may serve as a vehicle for business transactions without itself having any significant assets or operations. Sometimes, shell companies are used for tax evasion, tax avoidance, and money laundering, or to achieve a specific goal such as anonymity. Anonymity may be sought to shield personal assets from others, such as a spouse when a marriage is breaking down, from creditors, from government authorities, besides others.

Asset-protection trust any form of trust which provides for funds to be held on a discretionary basis

An asset-protection trust is any form of trust which provides for funds to be held on a discretionary basis. Such trusts are set up in an attempt to avoid or mitigate the effects of taxation, divorce and bankruptcy on the beneficiary. Such trusts are therefore frequently proscribed or limited in their effects by governments and the courts.

Private banking is banking, investment and other financial services provided by banks and financial services firms primarily to high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) with high levels of income or sizable assets and increasingly the Mass Affluent market as well.

Offshore investment is the keeping of money in a jurisdiction other than one's country of residence. Offshore jurisdictions are a commonly accepted means of reducing the taxes levied in most countries to both large and small-scale investors alike. Poorly regulated offshore domiciles have served historically as havens for tax evasion, money laundering, or to conceal or protect illegally acquired money from law enforcement in the investor's country. However, the modern, well-regulated offshore centres allow legitimate investors to take advantage of higher rates of return or lower rates of tax on that return offered by operating via such domiciles. The advantage to offshore investment is that such operations are both legal and less costly than those offered in the investor's country—or "onshore".

The European Union withholding tax is the common name for a withholding tax which is deducted from interest earned by European Union residents on their investments made in another member state, by the state in which the investment is held. The European Union itself has no taxation powers, so the name is strictly a misnomer. The aim of the tax is to ensure that citizens of one member state do not evade taxation by depositing funds outside the jurisdiction of residence and so distort the single market. The tax is withheld at source and passed on to the EU Country of residence. All but three member states disclose the recipient of the interest concerned. Most EU states already apply a withholding tax to savings and investment income earned by their nationals on deposits and investments in their own states. The Directive seeks to bring inter-state income into the same arrangement, under the Single Market policy.

Tax Justice Network Independent tax advocacy group

The Tax Justice Network, is an independent international network, launched in 2003, focused on research, analysis and advocacy in the area of international tax and financial regulation, including the role of tax havens. TJN maps, analyses and explains the impacts of tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax competition; and supports the engagement of citizens, civil society organisations and policymakers with the aim of a more just tax system.

A tax haven is a country or place with very low "effective" rates of taxation for foreign investors. In some traditional definitions, a tax haven also offers financial secrecy. However, while countries with high levels of secrecy but also high rates of taxation, can feature in some tax haven lists, they are not universally considered as tax havens. In contrast, countries with lower levels of secrecy but also low "effective" rates of taxation, appear in most § Tax haven lists. The consensus around effective tax rates has led academics to note that the term "tax haven" and "offshore financial centre" are almost synonymous.

Offshore financial centre corporate-focused tax havens

An Offshore Financial Centre or OFC is defined as a country or jurisdiction that provides financial services to nonresidents on a scale that is incommensurate with the size and the financing of its domestic economy. "Offshore" does not refer to the location of the OFC, but to the fact that the largest users of the OFC are nonresident. The IMF lists OFCs as a third class of financial centre, with International Financial Centres (IFCs), and Regional Financial Centres (RFCs); there is overlap.

Financial Secrecy Index qualitative ranking of secrecy jurisdictions

The Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) is a qualitative scoring of financial secrecy indicators, weighted by the economic flows of each country.

Bank secrecy the agreement between a financial institution and its client

Banking secrecy, alternately known as financial privacy, banking discretion, or bank safety, is a conditional agreement between a bank and its clients that all foregoing activities remain secure, confidential, and private. Most often associated with banking in Switzerland, banking secrecy is prevalent in Luxembourg, Monaco, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, Lebanon and the Cayman Islands, among other off-shore banking institutions.

Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks

The Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks is a Swiss federal law and act-of-parliament that operates as the supreme law governing banking in Switzerland. Although the federal law has only been amended seven times, it has been revised multiple times to limit and expand its banking secrecy provisions since its ratification. The banking secrecy provisions in the Federal Act are additionally enforced through multiple civil codes in the federal Swiss Civil Code and locally through cantonal law. In December 2017, the Swiss parliament launched a standing initiative and expressed an interest in formally embedding banking secrecy within the Swiss Federal Constitution rendering it a federally-protected constitutional right.

The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) is an information standard for the Automatic Exchange Of Information (AEOI) regarding financial accounts on a global level, between tax authorities, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed in 2014.

Swiss Leaks 2015 expose of tax avoidance scheme

Swiss Leaks is the name of a journalistic investigation, released in February 2015, of a giant tax evasion scheme allegedly operated with the knowledge and encouragement of the British multinational bank HSBC via its Swiss subsidiary, HSBC Private Bank (Suisse). Triggered by leaked information from French computer analyst Hervé Falciani on accounts held by over 100,000 clients and 20,000 offshore companies with HSBC in Geneva, the disclosed information has been called "the biggest leak in Swiss banking history".

In 2010, the United States implemented the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act; the law required financial firms around the world to report accounts held by US citizens to the Internal Revenue Service. The US on the other hand refused the Common Reporting Standard set up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, alongside Vanuatu and Bahrain.

The Republic of Panama is one of the oldest and best-known tax havens in the Caribbean, as well as one of the most established in the region. Panama has had a reputation for tax avoidance since the early 20th century, and Panama has been cited repeatedly in recent years as a jurisdiction which does not cooperate with international tax transparency initiatives.

Conduit and Sink OFCs Classification of tax havens

Conduit OFC and Sink OFC is an empirical quantitative method of classifying corporate tax havens, offshore financial centres (OFCs) and tax havens.

A regulatory haven is jurisdictions that have light financial regulation system. They often associated with having have lax tax regulation acting as tax haven and having financial secrecy. Regulatory haven's can be a state, country, or territory which maintains a system of financial secrecy and little or no financial regulation. Some of the countries that are considered to be regulatory havens include Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Singapore and Hong Kong. They are used by some financial firms to avoid strict financial regulation and is a form of regulatory arbitrage.

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