March 30, 2009 1:01PM

Tax Havens Have Stronger Governance Standards

Congratulations to The Economist for reporting on a new study showing that so-called tax havens actually have the strongest laws to weed out shady money. The article cites new research by an Australian political scientist, who conducted real-world tests to confirm that it is much easier to set up anonymous structures in nations such as the United States and United Kingdom than it is to set up similar structures in places such as Bermuda and Switzerland:

...with a budget of $10,000 and little more than Google (and the ads at the back of this paper), [Jason Sharman, a political scientist at Australia’s Griffith University] showed how easy it was to circumvent prohibitions on banking secrecy, forming anonymous shell companies and secret bank accounts across the world. In doing so he has uncovered an uncomfortable truth for many of the leaders of Group of 20 nations meeting on April 2nd to discuss, among other things, sanctions against offshore tax havens. The most egregious examples of banking secrecy, money laundering and tax fraud are found not in remote alpine valleys or on sunny tropical isles but in the backyards of the world’s biggest economies. ...A money-laundering threat assessment in 2005 by the federal government found that corporate anonymity offered by Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming rivalled that of familiar offshore financial centres. For foreigners, America is a particularly attractive place to stash cash, because it does not tax the interest income they earn. Thus with both anonymity and no taxation, America offers them all the elements of a tax haven. ...America is not the only rich nation Mr Sharman tested. He tried to open anonymous shell companies and bank accounts 45 times across the world. These were successful in 17 cases, of which 13 were in OECD countries. One example was Britain, where in 45 minutes on the internet he formed a company without providing identification, was issued with bearer shares (which have been almost universally outlawed because they confer completely anonymous ownership) as well as nominee directors and a secretary. ...In contrast, when trying to open accounts in Bermuda and Switzerland, he was asked for documentation such as notarised copies of his birth certificate. “In practice OECD countries have much laxer regulation on shell corporations than classic tax havens,” Mr Sharman concludes.