Offshore Survey – October 2003 Supplement by Christopher Owen
ECJ permits Belgian ?co-ordination centres? to continue The European Court of Justice suspended a European Commission ruling that Belgium’s tax breaks relating to ‘co-ordination centres’ of multinational companies violated state-aid rules. The decision of 3 July is an interim one, but will allow the tax breaks for some 36 companies to be extended, possibly up to 2005, when a final ruling is expected. It also led Belgium to drop its opposition in the European Council to a deal over Italian milk quotas which had delayed approval of the EU savings tax directive. The Commission, under a ruling in February, had ordered Belgium to phase out the tax regime by 2010 and not to renew any contracts. Belgium did not contest the Commission’s decision to phase out the centres, but wanted companies to be able to renew the schemes until the end of 2005. The ECJ backed its argument that “the almost immediate interruption of the ? regime ? could have broadly irreversible consequences of a certain gravity”. Belgium is still looking for guarantees that companies will not be requested to repay the aid, but the Commission has maintained it is only seeking the abolition of the tax breaks, rather than any repayment. It launched formal investigation proceedings in February 2002 following Belgium’s refusal to bring the scheme into line with EU law as recommended in July 2001. In June the Commission decided that Belgium’s tax regime for US foreign sales corporations (FSCs) was also in breach of EU state aid rules. Taking into account Belgium’s voluntarily phasing out of the effects of the regime, following the repeal of US?s FSC legislation in September 2000, the Commission has asked Belgium to repeal the scheme by the end of the current fiscal year. US stockbroker pleads guilty to tax evasion through offshore credit card A stockbroker pleaded guilty in a New York District Court on 26 June to laundering profits on stock deals through an offshore credit card account in order to evade taxes. Adam Klein pleaded guilty today to one count of Money Laundering in the Third Degree after admitting that he evaded paying any taxes on US$350,000 that he received over a two-year period as payments on securities transactions. The payments were wired to a bank account in Klein’s name at the Leadenhall Bank & Trust in the Bahamas. Klein accessed the funds through a MasterCard credit card issued on the Leadenhall account. He paid no taxes on the money in his Bahamian account and, as a result, evaded almost US$175,000 in New York City, State and federal taxes. The action is part of a continuing investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office into the use of credit cards issued by financial institutions located in offshore jurisdictions. In a related case, unlicensed Manhattan money transmitter Beacon Hill Service Corporation was indicted for illegally receiving and transferring billions of dollars in offshore transactions. An investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office revealed that the firm received and transmitted funds from numerous sources, including individuals, shell corporations and South American exchange houses known as “casas de cambio.” During 2001 and 2002, wire transfers in just four of Beacon Hill’s 40 accounts totalled more than US$3.2 billion.Weak confidence drives HNWIs to turn to financial advisors Weakened personal financial confidence has driven many high net worth individuals (HNWIs) to turn to financial advisors for advice and guidance rather than opting for self-directed investment, according to the World Wealth Report 2003 published by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch. Confidence has been eroded by a combination of corporate scandals, perceived conflicts of interest related to equity research, accounting irregularities and poor investment performance, said the report. As a result, HNWI?s seeking wealth preservation continued to divert funds to fixed income, alternative investments, real estate and other investments less correlated to equities. Successful wealth management providers will have to further improve the client experience by providing greater integration of superior products and a wider spectrum of services. Sluggish growth and declining stock prices slowed HNWI wealth accumulation around the globe and the number of HNWIs increased 2.1% to 7.3 million people in 2002, the lowest growth rate in the Report?s history. HNWI financial wealth grew 3.6% to US$27.2 trillion last year. North American HNWI wealth overall decreased 2.1%, undermined by a continuing decline in equity markets in the US in 2002. European HNWI wealth grew 4.8%, partially assisted by appreciation of the Euro and UK sterling against the US dollar. The largest concentration of HNWIs around the world is in Europe. Asia-Pacific HNWI wealth jumped 10.7%, supported by relatively high savings rates and robust GDP growth in key regional economies, such as China, South Korea and Australia. Despite the poor performance in the past two years, the Report predicted HNWI wealth to grow an average 7% a year during the next five years, reaching approximately US$38 trillion by year-end 2007.