Offshore, Out of Mind?

Feb 6 2010 | 9:08am ET

By Christopher Silvester -- In early November 2009, a British-born yacht broker in his fifties and living in Florida, Robert Moran, became one of the first US citizens to be prosecuted for filing a false tax return as a result of information disclosed by UBS, the world’s largest private bank. Moran expects to forfeit his broker’s licence, which is likely to result in the bankruptcy of what his attorney described as ‘an international powerhouse in the yacht brokerage business’.  

With offices in Antibes and Moscow, Moran Yacht and Ship described itself as ‘without doubt the yachting industry leader for the sale, construction and charter of large yachts throughout the world’. In return for providing what his attorney called ‘voluntary and early cooperation’ in the government’s probe into ‘this tawdry affair known as UBS’, Moran was sentenced to two months in prison.

Moran had been concealing the sum of $3.7 million in an undeclared UBS account through an offshore entity he had set up in Panama. Judge Cohn said ‘Why does one open an offshore bank account?… I have found that offshore accounts are set up for one reason, it’s not necessarily the amount involved, but it is the deception.’

Many have said that the current global economic crisis has sounded the death knell of banking secrecy, especially for citizens of leading G20 nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom. G20 leaders seeking scapegoats for the crisis have identified ‘tax havens’ as an easy target.

This process began a couple of years ago when a whistleblower in Liechtenstein sold confidential lists of account holders’ names to the tax authorities in the US, Germany, and Britain. In the wake of this revelation, Liechtenstein signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the US. Back in March of last year, Gibraltar, a British low tax jurisdiction, signed a similar TIEA with the US, and other offshore jurisdictions have followed suit. Continued on next page...

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