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Willis moves tax base here ahead of US curbs

WILLIS Group, the world's third-largest insurance broker, has joined a growing list of US companies moving their tax bases to Ireland from Bermuda.

New York-based Willis, which has 20,000 employees including 300 here in Ireland, said its board decided yesterday to move from the Caribbean to Ireland as part of a search for "a more stable environment". Shareholders must still vote on the proposal.

The move comes a few months after US President Barack Obama said he planned to crack down on corporate tax havens. While Ireland was named in an initial list of tax havens, few experts believe Ireland will be included when the US draws up legislation in 2011.

In April, consulting firm Accenture said it planned to move to Ireland from Bermuda. Electrical company Tyco Electronics Ltd, Boston-based medical device maker Covidien and diversified industrial company Ingersoll-Rand have also said in the past few months that they were planning a similar move.

Willis is the third-biggest reinsurance broker in the world and the biggest in Ireland, where it has traded under the name Coyle Hamilton Willis since 2004 when it bought 100-year-old Coyle Hamilton.

Willis said it did not expect any material change in its financial results or tax treatment, but said the move would improve the company's "ability to maintain a competitive worldwide effective corporate tax rate".

Ireland's low corporation tax rate of 12.5pc is attractive for multinationals.

"We reviewed a number of alternatives with our board of directors, and believe that incorporating in Ireland will provide Willis with economic benefits and help ensure our continued global competitiveness," said Willis chief executive and chairman Joe Plumeri.

Several other large companies incorporated in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are eyeing a shift to Europe in search of more favourable tax treatment and other benefits. Ireland is expected to benefit along with Switzerland as companies seek more hospitable conditions in Europe.

The queue of US multinationals hoping to leave Bermuda and incorporate here suggests initial fears that Ireland could be harmed by new US legislation were overdone.

Ireland looks instead to be benefitting from fears that Mr Obama will crack down on some countries and a distrust of light regulation that can leave investors vulnerable.

Willis was at pains to underline yesterday that Ireland "offers a long history of international investment and long-established commercial relationships, trade agreements and tax treaties with European Union member states, the United States and other countries around the world where Willis does business".

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