News Comment

Saturday 10 December 2016

Panama Papers offer us a poor man's guide to putting assets offshore

Published 09/04/2016 | 02:30

This week US President Barack Obama's administration scuppered a $160bn merger between drug companies Pfizer and Allergan Photo: AP
This week US President Barack Obama's administration scuppered a $160bn merger between drug companies Pfizer and Allergan Photo: AP

Wealth is like sea water, the more we drink, the thirstier we become, is how the 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put it.

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The revelations contained in the infamous Panama Papers, revealed this week, show us just how true that statement is. We have seen it in Vladimir Putin's friend the cellist, with $2bn passing through companies linked to him. We have also seen it in the Jersey oil company attempting to avoid paying $400m in tax in Uganda - a sum equal to one year's state spend on the Ugandan health service.

The most surprising thing about the Panama Papers is that most of the tricks used by some wealthy clients of Mossack Fonseca to help avoid tax are decades old. They also all have their roots in rules covering normal business operations which can be adapted in ways they were never intended. They aren't the latest tax avoidance twist, they were in use in places like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Jersey and the old Guinness & Mahon bank in Dublin under Des Traynor decades ago.

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