Category Archives: BEPS

9/2/20: Ireland: More of a [reformed] Tax Haven than Ever Before?..


With the demise of the last Government and the uncertain waters of Irish politics stirred by the latest election results, let me take a quick glance at the Government's tenure in terms of perhaps the most important international trend that truly threatens to shake the core foundations of the Irish economy: the global drive to severely restrict corporate tax havens.

In Ireland, thanks to the CSO's hard labours, there is an explicit measure of the role played by the international tax avoiding corporations in the country economy. It is a very imperfect measure, in so far as it significantly underestimates the true extent of the tax arbitrage that Ireland is facilitating. But it is a robust measure, nonetheless, because it accounts for the lore egregious schemes run in capital investment segments of the corporate tax strategies.

The measure is the gap between the official Irish GDP and the CSO-computed modified Gross National Income, or GNI*. The larger the gap, the greater is the role of the tax shifting multinationals in the Irish national accounts. The larger the gap, the more bogus is the GDP as a measure of the true economic activity in Ireland. The larger the gap, the poorer is Ireland in real economic terms as opposed to the internationally-used GDP terms. You get the notion.

So here are some numbers, using CSO data:


When Fine Gael came to power in 2011, Irish GNI* (the more real measure of the economy) was 26.03 percent lower than the Irish GDP, in nominal terms. This, effectively, meant that tax shenanigans of the multinational corporations were de facto running at at least 26% of the total Irish economic activity.

Fine Gael proceeded to unleash and/or promise major tax reforms aimed at reducing these activities that (as 2014 Budget, released in October 2013 claimed, were harmful to Ireland's reputation internationally. The Government 'closed' the most notorious tax avoidance scheme, the Double Irish, in 2014, and introduced a major new 'innovation', known as the Knowledge Development Box (aka, replacement for the egregious Double Irish) in 2016. In September 2018, the Government published an ambitious Roadmap on Corporation Tax Reform (an aspirational document aiming to appease US and European critics of Ireland's tax avoidance platform).

So one would expect that the gap between Irish GNI* and GDP should fall in size, as Ireland was cautiously being brought into the 21st century by the FG government. Well, by the time the clocks chimed the end of 2018, Irish GNI* was 39.06 percent below the Irish GDP. The gap did not close, but instead blew up.

Over the tenure of FG in office, the gap rose more than 50 percent! Based on 2018 data (the latest we have so far), for every EUR1 in GDP that Irish national accounts claim to be our officially-declared income, whooping EUR0.391 is a mis-statement that only exists in the imaginary world of fake corporate accounts, engineered to squirrel that money from other countries tax authorities. Remember the caveat - this is an underestimate of the true extent of corporate tax shifting that flows through Ireland. But you have an idea. In 2011, the number was EUR0.260, in 2007, on the cusp of the Celtic Garfield's Demise, it was EUR0.1605 and in 2000-2003, the years of the Celtic Garfield's birth when Charlie McCreevy hiked public expenditure by a whooping 48 percent, it was averaging EUR0.1509.

Think about this, folks: McCreevy never waged a battle to get Irish tax system's reputation up in the eyes of the critically-minded foreigners and yet, his tenure's end was associated with the tax optimisation intensity in the Irish economy being whooping 24 percentage points below that of the 'reformist' Fine Gael.

This is mind-bending.

18/6/19: OECD-led Tax Reforms: A Prescription for a Less Competitive Economy



I have just posted a draft of my paper on the OECD BEPS proposals from May-June 2019 here: Gurdgiev, Constantin, OECD-led Tax Reforms: A Prescription for a Less Competitive Economy (June 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3406260

25/2/2018: Tax Havens and Financial Secrecy ca 2018


The notion of what defines a tax haven is a complex one and does not easily lend itself to a precise definition. This presents numerous problems. As a personal example is an academic paper that I am currently working on with three other co-authors in which we had to use several different definitions of tax havens, primarily because the official (OECD) designations were so deeply politicized as to exclude a wide range of countries.

Tax Justice Network this week published its Financial Secrecy Index (https://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/). The Index is based on 20 tax policy-specific indicators, which are described here (https://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/introduction/method-and-concepts) and in broad terms provides a view of just how open the country is to facilitating tax avoidance or tax evasion through its financial laws, regulations and systems. The 20 indicators are:

  • Banking secrecy
  • Wealth Ownership disclosures, covering: existence of a public Trust and Foundations Register, Recording of Company Ownership disclosures, and Other Wealth Ownership
  • Limited Partnership Transparency, Public Company Ownership, Public Company Accounts
  • Country-by-Country Reporting, and Corporate Tax Disclosure, Legal Entity Identifier, and Tax Administration Capacity
  • Consistent Personal Income Tax
  • Does the jurisdiction facilitate tax avoidance and encourage tax competition with its treatment of capital income in local income tax law? Is there tax court secrecy, and are there harmful tax structures, e.g. bearer shares; use of large banknotes, existence of trusts with flee clauses, etc
  • Public Statistics disclosures about international financial, trade, investment and tax position
  • Anti - Money Laundering regime 
  • Automatic Information Exchange, Bilateral Treaties, and International Legal Cooperation
Using the methodology described in the above link, the Tax Justice Network arrive at the country rankings in terms of how open the country system is to facilitation of tax avoidance and evasion, including through provision of financial secrecy and non-disclosure facilities that help international companies and investors avoid tax payments in their jurisdictions of origin.

The results are surprising, because they stand in a stark contrast to politically sanitized version of tax avoidance lists published by the likes of the toothless and politically controlled OECD:


Here's the top shocker: the U.S. - a country that routinely bullies other jurisdictions when it comes to extracting tax data that serves the American own purposes is number two most active tax avoidance facilitation countries in the world.  Germany, another stalwart of anti-tax avoidance rhetoric and co-sponsor of the OECD's BEPS anti-tax avoidance process alongside the U.S. is ranked number 7. Japan is number 13. Canada is number 21. And so on.

Another surprise, Ireland - previously ranked 37th in 2015 Index, with a secrecy score of 40 (see https://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/Archive2015/CountryReports/Ireland.pdf), the country is now ranked 26th, with a secrecy score of 51 (this year's country report here: https://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/PDF/Ireland.pdf). In other words, things are not quite improving for Ireland.

A third surprise is Lichtenstein. This country has been commonly accused of being a major secrecy tax haven for financial flows, quite often, without any serious consideration of the more recent reforms in the country's financial services sector. Yet, Lichtenstein ranks lowly 46th in the index, just below Norway. IN the same vein, Cyprus - that has been effectively labeled a dirty money Island for Russian mobsters during 2011 financial restructuring episode - ranks reasonably low at 24th place, well better than Germany - a country from which these accusations originated.

These, and other considerations, arising from the Index results should remind us of the complexity involved in assessing the extent of financial and tax systems facilitation of illicit and ethically questionable activities. Tax havens come in all forms and shapes, some benign, others damaging to the socio-economic environments, many having an adverse impact only in the long run.

It is quite easy for the media to label a jurisdiction a safe haven for crime. It is much harder to establish an empirical basis to either support or reject such a label.

18/11/17: Say thanks BEPS, as Sweden Cuts Corporate Tax Rates Again…


Sweden, the tough-fighting 'socialist' haven of capitalism is cutting its corporate tax rates. Again.

Yes, that is right. Sweden used to have a decisively 'socialist' rate of corporate income tax (irony implied) of 28% until 2008. In 2009 this rate dropped to a relatively convincing 'socialist' rate of 26.3%, before falling to a sort-of-'socialist' softy 22%. It now plans a cut to 20%.
 h/t for the chart to @mattyglesias 

The announcement is made here: http://www.ey.com/gl/en/services/tax/international-tax/alert--sweden-proposes-major-corporate-income-tax-changes h/t to @tylercowen for the link. 

Note, extensive compliance changes proposed for Swedish tax code to bring it in line with the OECD's BEPS scheme. The scheme was designed, as defined by its objectives, to make it harder for the corporations to avoid taxes in the future. Which means, of course, that to maintain effective tax rates closer to where they were before the BEPS, Sweden, as other states, will need to offset BEPS-induced accounting changes with lower headline rates. 

Tax optimization, folks, just went mainstream in Europe and the U.S. Which is a good thing for transparency (reducing the disparity between the effective rates and the headline rates). But a bad news for personal income taxes. To offset the declines in corporate tax revenues that BEPS changes will inevitably engender, Governments from Sweden to Italy, from Canada to the U.S. will have to either cut spending or increase personal income tax rates. No medals for guessing what they will opt for.

7/10/15: Two Reports, One Ireland, Hundreds of Billions in MNCs’ Profits


Two interesting headlines in recent days brought back the memories of recent hot-flash splashes of news regarding Ireland's position as a corporate tax haven. These are:

  1. Irish response to the completion of the OECD review of the options for addressing the imbalances in the global corporate taxation systems: http://www.independent.ie/business/world/new-oecd-global-tax-proposals-target-corporation-tax-avoidance-31583371.html, and
  2. A less publicised in Ireland study from the U.S. estimating to volumes of corporate tax optimisation/avoidance with honourable place reserved for Ireland in it: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/06/us-usa-tax-offshore-idUSKCN0S008U20151006
Have fun tying them together... but here are some choice quotes from the Citizens for tax Justice study referenced in the Reuters article:

"The Congressional Research Service found that in 2008, American multinational companies collectively reported 43 percent of their foreign earnings in five small tax haven countries: Bermuda, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Yet these countries accounted for only 4 percent of the companies’ foreign workforces and just 7 percent of their foreign investments."

"For example, a 2013 Senate investigation of Apple found that the tech giant primarily uses two Irish subsidiaries — which own the rights to some of Apple’s intellectual property — to hold $102 billion in offshore cash. Manipulating tax loopholes in the U.S. and other countries, Apple has structured these subsidiaries so that they are not tax residents of either the U.S. or Ireland, ensuring that they pay no taxes to any government on the lion’s share of the money. One of the subsidiaries has no employees."

"Google uses accounting techniques nicknamed the “double Irish” and the “Dutch sandwich,” according to a Bloomberg investigation. Using two Irish subsidiaries, one of which is headquartered in Bermuda, Google shifts profits through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda, shrinking its tax bill by approximately $2 billion a year"

A handy graph:
And another one:

Do note that per above table, Ireland is a conduit for the U.S. corporates' tax activities that amount to 42% of our GDP, while Switzerland (the country we so keenly like to tell the world is a 'real' tax haven) facilitates activities amounting to 'only' 9% of its GDP. 

You can read the entire report and see associated data here: http://ctj.org/pdf/offshoreshell2015.pdf

And while you are at it, here is a little Bloomberg piece from back 2014 on another whirlwind of activities: corporate inversions. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-05-04/u-s-firms-with-irish-addresses-criticized-for-the-moves What is notable in this article is that we are now having inversions of inverted companies, whereby new re-domiciling firms buy into previously re-domiciled companies to land themselves a PO Box presence in Ireland.

So back to that OECD reform proposal, therefore, that involves addressing the issue of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) and is apparently of no threat to us in Ireland... You can try reading all the legalese here http://www.oecd.org/tax/beps-2015-final-reports.htm, or just give it a thought - tax optimisation by U.S. (only U.S.) MNCs via Ireland amounts to up to 42% of our GDP and likely less than 1-2% of the companies workforce is present here. How much of that 42% booked via Ireland is 'base erosion & profit shifting'? Ah, yes... let's not ask questions we don't want answered. Let's just have a breakfast at Tiffany's while repeating that "Ireland has a low rate transparent system and IDA insist on substance for any companies that it supports and I think those are the three pillars that supports our offering and I think Beps is about moving all international systems to a more transparent, clear system."

Don't laugh...