Tag Archives: tax haven Switzerland

Returning Stolen Money: the Nigerian Saga (2002-2018)

Nigeria and Switzerland signed a memorandum of understanding on March 26, 2018 to pave the way for the return of illegally acquired assets…Switzerland said in December 2017 that it would return to Nigeria around $321 million in assets seized from the family of former military ruler Sani Abacha via a deal signed with the World Bank…[T]he memorandum of understanding was ratified between Nigeria, Switzerland and the International Development Association, (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries.

Excerpt from Nigeria and Switzerland sign agreement to return stolen assets, Reuters, Mar. 26, 2018

Why the Rich Love Swiss Military Bunkers

camouflaged bunker Sufers, Switzerland. image from wikipedia

Deep in the Swiss Alps, next to an old airstrip suitable for landing Gulfstream and Falcon jets, is a vast bunker that holds what may be one of the world’s largest stashes of gold. The entrance, protected by a guard in a bulletproof vest, is a small metal door set into a granite mountain face at the end of a narrow country lane. Behind two farther doors sits a 3.5-ton metal portal that opens only after a code is entered and an iris scan and a facial-recognition screen are performed. A maze of tunnels once used by Swiss armed forces lies within.

The owner of this gold vault wants to remain anonymous for fear of compromising security, and he worries that even disclosing the name of his company might lead thieves his way…

Demand for gold storage has risen since the 2008 financial crisis. Many of the wealthy see owning gold as a hedge against the insecurity of banks and a reasonable investment at a time when markets are volatile and bank accounts and low-risk bonds pay almost no yield. It may also be a way to avoid the increasing scrutiny of tax authorities. In high-profile cases, U.S., French, and German prosecutors have gone after citizens of those countries with undeclared Swiss bank accounts.

Swiss storage operations such as these don’t have the same obligation that Swiss banks do to report suspicious transactions to federal regulators. Americans aren’t required under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act to declare gold stored outside financial institutions.
Of the roughly 1,000 former military bunkers still in existence across Switzerland, a few hundred have been sold in recent years, and about 10 are now storage sites holding gold as well as computer data, according to the Swiss defense department.

Few match the opulence of the airstrip setup, whose owner claims to run the largest store of gold for private clients—and the seventh-largest gold vault in the world. Near the runway sits the VIP lounge and a pair of luxurious apartments for clients. The walls of the apartments are lined with aged wood from Polish barns. South African quartzite was chosen for the floors to match the faded gray timber, and the amenities—bathroom mirror, TV screens—can retract into the ceiling, counter, or wall. The owner offers a place for clients to sleep and eat, because “many do not want to leave a paper trail of credit card receipts and passports” at hotels and restaurants…

Some miles away, Dolf Wipfli, the founder and chief executive officer of a different company, Swiss Data Safe, is one of the few operators willing to be interviewed about his business. The gold Swiss Data Safe stores for clients is kept in a mountainside bunker outside the hamlet of Amsteg.

Excerpts from Secret Alpine Gold Vaults Are the New Swiss Bank Accounts, Bloomberg, Sept. 30, 2016

How and Where to Get a Secret Account in the USA

South Dakota, quarter---2006, image from wikipedia

After years of lambasting other countries for helping rich Americans hide their money offshore, the U.S. is emerging as a leading tax and secrecy haven for rich foreigners. By resisting new global disclosure standards, the U.S. is creating a hot new market, becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth. Everyone from London lawyers to Swiss trust companies is getting in on the act, helping the world’s rich move accounts from places like the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands to Nevada, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, has opened a trust company in Reno, Nevada a few blocks from the Harrah’s and Eldorado casinos. It is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens such as Bermuda, subject to the new international disclosure requirements, and into Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.  Others are also jumping in: Geneva-based Cisa Trust Co. SA, which advises wealthy Latin Americans, is applying to open in Pierre, S.D., to “serve the needs of our foreign clients,” said John J. Ryan Jr., Cisa’s president.  Trident Trust Co., one of the world’s biggest providers of offshore trusts, moved dozens of accounts out of Switzerland, Grand Cayman, and other locales and into Sioux Falls, S.D., in December, ahead of a Jan. 1 disclosure deadline….

No one expects offshore havens to disappear anytime soon. Swiss banks still hold about $1.9 trillion in assets not reported by account holders in their home countries, … Still, the U.S. is one of the few places left where advisers are actively promoting accounts that will remain secret from overseas authorities….The offices of Rothschild Trust North America LLC aren’t easy to find. They’re on the 12th floor of Porsche’s former North American headquarters building, a few blocks from the casinos. (The U.S. attorney’s office is on the sixth floor.) Yet the lobby directory does not list Rothschild. Instead, visitors must go to the 10th floor, the offices of McDonald Carano Wilson LLP, a politically connected law firm. Several former high-ranking Nevada state officials work there, as well as the owner of some of Reno’s biggest casinos and numerous registered lobbyists. One of the firm’s tax lobbyists is Robert Armstrong, viewed as the state’s top trusts and estates attorney, and a manager of Rothschild Trust North America.

“There’s a lot of people that are going to do it,” said Cripps. “This added layer of privacy is kicking them over the hurdle” to move their assets into the U.S. For wealthy overseas clients, “privacy is huge, especially in countries where there is corruption.”….

Rothschild’s Penney wrote that the U.S. “is effectively the biggest tax haven in the world.” The U.S., he added in language later excised from his prepared remarks, lacks “the resources to enforce foreign tax laws and has little appetite to do so.”….The U.S. failure to sign onto the OECD information-sharing standard is “proving to be a strong driver of growth for our business,” …

In a section originally titled “U.S. Trusts to Preserve Privacy,” he included the hypothetical example of an Internet investor named “Wang, a Hong Kong resident,” originally from the People’s Republic of China, concerned that information about his wealth could be shared with Chinese authorities.  Putting his assets into a Nevada LLC, in turn owned by a Nevada trust, would generate no U.S. tax returns, Penney wrote. Any forms the IRS would receive would result in “no meaningful information to exchange under” agreements between Hong Kong and the U.S., according to Penney’s PowerPoint presentation reviewed by Bloomberg.
Penney offered a disclaimer: At least one government, the U.K., intends to make it a criminal offense for any U.K. firm to facilitate tax evasion.

Excerpt from Jesse Drucker, The World’s Favorite New Tax Haven Is the United States, Bloombert, Jan. 27, 2016

Stolen Money, Europe’s Tax Havens and Nigeria’s Stolen Cash

Authorities in Switzerland are in talks to arrange the return to Nigeria of $300 million confiscated from the family of its former military ruler, Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s foreign minister said.  The corruption watchdog Transparency International has accused Abacha of stealing up to $5 billion of public money during his five years running the oil-rich nation, from 1993 until his death in 1998.  Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said $700 million had already been repatriated from Switzerland, adding that he met Swiss representatives last week for further talks.  “They have also now recovered, in the same context, another $300 million of which there is ongoing discussion to have that repatriated as well,” he told journalists on Monday.

In 2014, Nigeria and the Abacha family reached an agreement for the West African country to get back the funds, which had been frozen, in return for dropping a complaint against Abba Abacha, the son of the former military ruler.  He was charged by a Swiss court with money-laundering, fraud and forgery in April 2005, after being extradited from Germany, and subsequently spent 561 days in custody. In 2006, Luxembourg ordered that funds held by the younger Abacha be frozen….He has asked the Britain and the United States for help recovering money stolen from Africa’s biggest economy by some of the country’s elite over several years.

Switzerland and Nigeria discuss return of $300 million stolen by Abacha, Reuters, Jan. 13, 2016

The United States as a Tax Haven

taxes

The world is becoming less welcoming to tax dodgers. That is the conclusion of the latest Financial Secrecy Index, published every two years by the Tax Justice Network (TJN), an NGO….. Among the biggest improvers are the Cayman Islands, once a notorious tax haven, and Luxembourg, which tax campaigners used to call Europe’s “death star” of financial secrecy.

The reason for the shift is the global, austerity-era push for countries to share more information on tax arrangements. Under the fast-spreading, OECD-sponsored Common Reporting Standard, countries will routinely exchange data on each other’s citizens so they can be taxed appropriately in their home countries. Rules on the registration of corporate ownership are being tightened, too, in order to reduce opportunities to hide dirty money in anonymous shell companies.

But America, the country that has arm-twisted so many others to join the transparency revolution, is dragging its feet. It is now the third most secretive jurisdiction, behind Hong Kong and, inevitably, Switzerland (where rumours of the death of bank secrecy have been exaggerated).

America was in the vanguard in the fight against tax havens, first targeting the Swiss, then passing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, which forces financial firms all over the world to spill the beans on their American clients. While demanding concessions from others, however, Washington has made few itself. It has, for instance, failed to engage with the OECD’s data-sharing scheme. Worse, anonymity-friendly incorporation regimes at the state level mean America is unmatched in corporate secrecy.

This matters, because America hosts a lot of offshore business—just ask a billionaire from Caracas or Cairo where he buys property or sets up the shell companies that hold it. The TJN offers a solution: it reckons Europe should mimic FATCA by imposing a stiff withholding tax (it suggests 35%) on payments from Europe to American financial institutions, until America gives as much data as it takes. That would induce wry smiles in Zurich.

Excerpts from Tax evasion: The mega-haven, Economist, Nov. 7, 2015, at 67

From Switzerland: Stolen Money Trickles back to Nigeria

sani abacha. image from wikipedia

Geneva’s public prosecutor will send $380 million confiscated from the family of Nigeria’s former military ruler Sani Abacha to Nigeria and closed a 16-year investigation into his funds, the prosecutor’s office said.   Abacha stole as much as $5 billion of public money during his five years running Africa’s top oil producing country from 1993 until his death in 1998, according to the corruption watchdog Transparency International.

The return of the $380 million follows an agreement between Nigeria and the Abacha family in July 2014, the prosecutor’s statement said. The agreement provides for Nigeria to receive the frozen funds in return for dropping a complaint against Abba Abacha, Sani’s son.He was charged by a Swiss court with money-laundering, fraud and forgery in April 2005, after being extradited from Germany, and subsequently spent 561 days in custody. In 2006 Switzerland ordered funds held by him in Luxembourg to be confiscated.  The return of the funds is conditional on effective monitoring by the World Bank of how the funds are used.

Switzerland to return $380 million of Abacha’s loot to Nigeria, Reuters, Mar. 19, 2015