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Tax tourists and the crown prince of thieves

Touristclick Luxembourg Travel News

Tax tourists and the crown prince of thieves


You can hardly travel the world these days without stumbling on a tax haven. Whether your preference is affluent Europe or third-world exotica, a mountain paradise or a Pacific island, you can find a tax haven to suit your needs.

Alongside the touts at train stations and airports who want to drag you off to their pensione or their taxi will be a greasy man with a "letterbox" and an offer too good to refuse. He's selling tax evasion - though he might call it by a sweeter name.

You don't even need to leave home to find your tax haven. It comes to you. Tax havens are advertised in magazines and newspapers. It is part of the democratisation of tax avoidance (the legal kind) and evasion (the illegal kind). It's not just sport for the mega-wealthy. Even the moderately rich can play the game.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development lists 38 countries that are tax havens, and that's not even including Switzerland, Austria or Luxembourg, for heaven's sake, although their bank secrecy laws are pretty dependable. If you don't fancy a bank in the Cayman Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man, there are plenty closer to home - Vanuatu, for example - that offer depositors anonymity and banking secrecy. A cluster of Pacific micro-states has leapt on board. Why sell bird droppings or sullenly watch your island sink into the ocean when you can make some money robbing other countries blind?

And now, thanks to the billionaire Westfield shopping mall boss, Frank Lowy, we all know about one of the prettiest tax havens of them all - Liechtenstein. Lowy has been caught up in a lot of bad publicity over his affairs in that teeny weeny and oh-so-rich principality since a disgruntled employee of its biggest bank, LGT, sold a list of alleged tax evaders to the German secret service.

According to documents cited in a continuing US Senate inquiry, the Lowy family once maintained a series of Liechtenstein-based foundations that in 2001 held $70 million in assets. Lowy says it is above board and no member of his family benefited; and we'll probably have to wait till eternity to get to the bottom of it.

Liechtenstein is not on every traveller's itinerary, but it is the supreme destination for tax tourists. The OECD classes it as one of the world's three "unco-operative" tax havens, absolutely steadfast and zealous in its passion for banking secrecy. The other recalcitrants are Andorra and Monaco.

These hold-outs have resisted the modest moves to improve transparency to which even zealots in the tax-evasion fraternity, such as Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands, have acceded in recent times.

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