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Is offshore tax-planning dead? Maybe not but, as Dylan once sang: “the times they are a-changing’”.

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Is offshore tax-planning dead? Maybe not but, as Dylan once sang: “the times they are a-changing’”.

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I’m writing during a month which saw US FATCA come into effect; a law providing for the automatic worldwide exchange of tax information related to US-citizens.

The UK also recently introduced its own FATCA, which deals with its offshore territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands).

The EU will be next to follow suit with the planned automatic exchange of bank account information between member states.

It’s a month in which the UK Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) has reported that marketed tax-planning schemes are ‘doomed’ in the UK.
It’s a month in which we hear that the UK plans to introduce measures to recover tax directly from UK bank accounts.

Canada has gone a step further; the revenue authorities are now offering tax informers cash rewards of up to 15 percent of tax collected.

If there’s one inescapable conclusion it’s that public opinion will no longer tolerate the increasingly murky offshore world. This is no longer just a Guardian-readers’ hobby-horse; we are now in a world in which public-feeling has all but eroded the traditional difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Following recent international pressure, almost all offshore territories are currently in consultation over the introduction of a publicly-accessible register of the ultimate ownership of their companies. And, whilst the offshore industry tries to present a brave face, this must surely herald the beginning of the end of zero-tax industry.

Everywhere we see islands busying themselves with diversifying their economies, hopefully quickly enough to withstand the inevitable economic downturn.

So what’s the future for international tax planning?

I’ve worked closely with the offshore sector for the last ten years and none of this comes as a surprise to anyone in the industry. It’s for this reason that I have consistently maintained that the future for EU-citizens lies in legitimate tax-shopping between EU member states; tax-planning based on treaty-provisions and supported by international law; not bearer-shares, numbered-accounts and passports for Bitcoins.

The dawning of this new age of tax-planning within the EU calls for legitimacy based on substance, credibility and a real presence abroad; registering paper-companies is not enough anymore.As a general trend we are seeing increasing numbers moving to lower-tax EU member states like Malta (where the effective corporate tax-rate is 5 percent) and Ireland (where it’s 12.5 percent).

My message to those who still have assets offshore is to move their business onshore, and fast. As the song goes on to say: “He that gets hurt will be he who has stalled… for the times they are a-changin’.”

Tom Jackson LLB (Hons)

Business Development Director, DeMontford Bell

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