Ain't tax avoidance great?
I’ve been criticised for saying unpleasant things about the NatWest Three (like they should be punished if they’re guilty, an astonishing suggestion, I think you’ll agree). But I’m holding my line that the Americans deal with white collar misbehaviour far more effectively than we do.
Fresh evidence has emerged this week with the Senate report on tax havens and tax abuses. Now I’m not suggesting that HM Revenue & Customs isn’t doing a good job on avoidance, but our MPs rarely muster the combination of passion and investigative skill on the subject displayed here.
Those who know the background will remember that the Permanent Sub-Comittee on Investigations, which authored the report, is the same committee that delved into the issue a few years back, and whose remarkable study of avoidance then led to DoJ moves to possibly indict KPMG. They are also the committee that George Galloway came up against last year, but supporters of Gorgeous George should, in my opinion, not let that bother them.
They shouldn’t let that bother them because the latest report is another masterpiece of forensic investigation.
The headline is in the first paragraph: ‘Experts estimate that Americans now have more than $1 trillion in assets offshore2 and illegally evade between $40 and $70 billion in U.S. taxes each year through the use of offshore tax schemes.’
But the real joy of it is in the detail. Listen to this paragraph from one participant in what you can only describe as a shady offshore scheme:
‘Mr. Johnson had tentatively decided to invest by December 20, 1999, when Mr. Scheinfeld emailed Mr. Wilk and Mr. Greenstein: “Joel [Latman] called, he has given us the full speed ahead (whatever than means) . . .” Mr. Greenstein asked in response “Are we firm on 100 or 200 [million dollars]?” and Mr. Wilk answered “$300MM; 150 for [redacted by Subcommittee] and 150 for Woody. Ain’t capitalism great!” On January 11, 2000, Chuck Wilk emailed Larry Scheinfeld “Well I guess congratulations are in order but boy do we have our work cut out for us now on POINT,” and Mr. Scheinfeld replied “Now I just hope Woody doesn’t get cold feet or have the IRS select his return for audit!”’
There, in all its glory, is the world of aggressive and dubious tax avoidance. Vast sums of money, and a clear realisation from those involved that what they are getting up to is barely legal. And the arrogance of that ‘Ain’t capitalism great?’ line.
It looks like we are, at the very least, in for another bout of serious blood letting across the pond about the extraordinary activities of US tax practitioners.