Home » Taxes » Biggest Tax Haven In U S? South Dakota, Says Pandora Papers Investigation

Biggest Tax Haven In U S? South Dakota, Says Pandora Papers Investigation

September 6, 2023
Bill Kimball

A recent agreement by the Group of Seven wealthy nations seeks to eliminate corporate tax havens by imposing a global 15% minimum corporate tax rate. However, as a tax expert, I find the effort hard to take seriously.

Tax Haven

In 2018, noted tax haven economist, Gabriel Zucman, showed that most corporate tax disputes are between high-tax jurisdictions, and not between high-tax and low-tax jurisdictions. Zucman research showed that disputes with major havens such as Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, are actually quite rare. As discussed in § History, most of these tax havens date from the late 1960s and effectively copied the structures and services of the above groups.

Top Tax Havens In The World

In April 2000, the Financial Stability Forum defined the related concept of an offshore financial centre , which the IMF adopted in June 2000, producing a list of 46 OFCs. The FSF–IMF definition focused on the BEPS tools havens offer, and on Hines’ observation that the accounting flows from BEPS tools are “out-of-proportion” and thus distort the economic statistics of the haven. The FSF–IMF list captured new corporate tax havens, such as the Netherlands, which Hines considered too small in 1994. In April 2007, the IMF used a more quantitative approach to generate a list of 22 major OFCs, and in 2018 listed the 8 major OFCs who handle 85% of all flows. From about 2010, tax academics considered OFCs and tax havens to be synonymous terms. Tax havens attract a generous amount of capital inflow and impose fees, charges, and even low tax rates to generate government revenue. While high-tax countries lose corporate tax revenue from businesses shifting profits elsewhere, tax havens can reduce the cost of financing investment in those countries, indirectly facilitating economic growth.

South Dakota, they argue, has struck at the very foundation of liberal democracy. The rest of the world, inspired by this example, created a global agreement called the Common Reporting Standard . Under CRS, countries agreed to exchange information on the assets of each other’s citizens kept in each other’s banks. The tax-evading appeal of places like Jersey, the Bahamas and Liechtenstein evaporated almost immediately, since you could no longer hide your wealth there. Initially, South Dakota’s so-called “dynasty trusts” were advertised for their ability to dodge inheritance tax, thus allowing wealthy people to cement their family’s long-term control over property in the way English aristocrats had always wanted to. For example, the European Union produces an annual list of tax havens that contains no EU member countries, even though many other lists identify Ireland, Luxembourg and a host of other European countries as tax havens.

  • They include financial powerhouses like the U.S., Japan, and the UK as well as smaller nations and territories like the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, and Luxembourg.
  • The Tax Justice Network’s 2021 assessment of corporate tax havens listed the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Bermuda as the top three tax corporate tax havens.
  • The tax haven can make this work by being uncooperative with foreign tax authorities.
  • The source was French computer analyst Hervé Falciani who provided data on accounts held by over 100,000 clients and 20,000 offshore companies with HSBC in Geneva; the disclosure has been called “the biggest leak in Swiss banking history”.
  • Perhaps under previous administrations, there might have been some appetite for aligning the US with global norms, but under Trump, it’s never going to happen.
  • And though there is some truth to that logic, the reality is that the world’s biggest tax havens are spread all over the world.

At the 2012 G20 Los Cabos summit, it was agreed that the OECD undertake a project to combat base erosion and profit shifting activities by corporates. An OECD BEPS Multilateral Instrument, consisting of “15 Actions” designed to be implemented domestically and through bilateral tax treaty provisions, were agreed at the 2015 G20 Antalya summit. The OECD BEPS Multilateral Instrument (“MLI”), was adopted on 24 November 2016 and has since been signed by over 78 jurisdictions; it came into force in July 2018. The MLI has been criticised for “watering down” several of its proposed initiatives, including country–by–country–reporting (“CbCr”), and for providing several opt-outs which several OECD and EU tax havens availed of. Neither the U.S. nor Germany have appeared on any tax haven lists by the main academic leaders in tax haven research, namely James R. Hines Jr., Dhammika Dharmapala, or Gabriel Zucman. There are no known cases of foreign firms executing tax inversions to the U.S. or Germany for tax purposes, a basic characteristic of a corporate tax haven. Tax havens are mostly successful and well-governed economies, and being a haven has brought prosperity.

What Is A Tax Haven?

The law required “absolute silence in respect to a professional secret” (i.e. accounts in Swiss banks). “Absolute” means protection from any government, including the Swiss. The law even made inquiry or research into the “trade secrets” of Swiss banks, a criminal offense.

Tax Haven

According to Transparency International half of the least corrupted countries were tax havens. Where the higher-tax jurisdictions conduct a reform of their taxation systems to remove to incentives to use tax havens. On October 2021, 11.9 Million of leaked documents with 2.9 terabytes of data were leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists . The leak exposed the secret offshore accounts of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state as well as more than 100 billionaires, celebrities, and business leaders. There is no established consensus regarding a specific definition for what constitutes a tax haven. This is the conclusion from non-governmental organisations, such as the Tax Justice Network in 2018, from the 2008 investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from the 2015 investigation by the U.S.

Why Are The Cayman Islands Considered A Tax Haven?

Tax havens are typically small, well-governed states that impose low or zero tax rates on foreign investors. A tax haven is a country or place which has a low rate of tax so that people choose to live there or register companies there in order to avoid paying higher tax in their own countries. Ireland is also connected to the British Empire-related tax havens as Ireland’s common law legal system, and company tax system, are more derived from the UK, then from Continental Europe. European Parliament votes to accept a report by 505 votes in favour to 63 against, identifying five “EU tax havens” that should be included on the EU Commission list of tax havens. Research in June–September 2018, confirmed U.S. multinationals as the largest global users of tax havens and BEPS tools. In several research papers, James R. Hines Jr. showed that tax havens were typically small but well-governed nations and that being a tax haven had brought significant prosperity. In 2009, Hines and Dharmapala suggested that roughly 15% of countries are tax havens, but they wondered why more countries had not become tax havens given the observable economic prosperity it could bring.

  • Today, there are over 5 million Chinese Americans across the country.
  • In 2015, French tax economist Gabriel Zucman published The Hidden Wealth of Nations which used global national accounts data to calculate the quantum of net foreign asset positions of rich countries which are unreported because there are located in tax havens.
  • Shell companies are basically companies without active business operations or significant assets that are stacked one on top of the other to make it harder to trace ownership.
  • A taxpayer who is comfortable doing that does not need a tax haven.
  • They also incorporate offshore, many say, to avoid paying taxes twice on the same pot of money.

The Panama Papers refer to the 11.5 million leaked encrypted confidential documents that were the property of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. More recently, the Panama leak has sparked renewed interestand investigations into offshore companies. TIEA makes it compulsory to share tax information between signatories and MLAT requires co-operation in matters of legal enforcement and criminal investigations. Putting assets in a country subject to exchange controls could be dangerous for outside investors.


But the number of financial services jobs in the state actually dropped slightly over the past decade, from about 30,500 in 2009 to 29,000 in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. The number of lawyers in the state increased over the same period from 1,794 to 1,995. But that 11.2 percent rise lagged the national growth rate of 14.5 percent. In addition, many of the countries used as tax havens for individual wealth are also utilized by corporations. Just under half of the list is located in Europe, but the rest are spread out across the Americas and Asia.

[..] The initial enquiries have signalled that Brussels wants Dublin to call time on the tax gambit, which has helped Ireland become a hub for American tech and pharma giants operating in Europe. Members of the European Parliament have voted to include the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus on the official EU tax haven blacklist. Intellectual property has become the leading tax avoidance vehicle in the world today. For example, according to the UK Treasury, on the surface it looks like Britain’s second-biggest investor is the Netherlands.

In 2014, the OECD followed FACTA with the Common Reporting Standard, an information standard for the automatic exchange of tax and financial information on a global level . A coercive tool used by both the OECD and the EU to encourage cooperation by tax havens with their transparency initiatives. Distribution of U.S. corporate profits (as a % of U.S. GDP) booked in foreign locations . Additionally, there is sometimes confusion between figures that focus on the amount of annual taxes lost due to tax havens , and figures that focus on the amount of capital residing in tax havens . Puerto Rico , almost a corporate tax haven “concession” by the U.S., but which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 mostly removed. (Δ) Identified on the first, and the largest, OECD 2000 list of 35 tax havens (the OECD list only contained Trinidad & Tobago by 2017); the above list contains 34 of the 35 (U.S. Virgin Islands missing).

The highest ranking jurisdictions by secrecy score were actually the Maldives, Angola and Algeria, but they represent less than 0.1% of total offshore financial services. Costs depend on where you create your shell company and who helps you do it.

A Matter Of Trusts

Although English, in all its diversity, is unquestionably the country’s dominant national language, the U.S. has always had a complex multilingual history. Long before European settlers colonized North and South America, thousands of indigenous languages thrived from coast to coast.

  • The loss of the complete secrecy that Switzerland once provided has made shell companies – and the countries that make them easy to set up – much more attractive.
  • Investors thinking of using tax havens and offshore banking locations should take note of the Liechtenstein banking scandal that shook the world in 2008.
  • We returned with Paradise Papers, West Africa Leaks, Mauritius Leaks, and in 2020, with Luanda Leaks.
  • The FSF–IMF definition focused on the BEPS tools havens offer, and on Hines’ observation that the accounting flows from BEPS tools are “out-of-proportion” and thus distort the economic statistics of the haven.
  • Though this is true in the broadest sense, the U.S. is a culturally diverse country, home to a plethora of languages.

Depositing money in a tax haven is legal as long as the depositor pays the taxes required by the home jurisdiction. The Republic helps big multinationals to engage in aggressive tax planning and the European Commission should regard it as one of five “EU tax havens” until substantial tax reforms are implemented. Brussels is challenging the “Double Irish” tax avoidance measure prized by big U.S. tech and pharma groups, putting pressure on Dublin to close it down or face a full-blown investigation.

Rules differ by jurisdiction, but you will usually have to provide a form of identification and answer questions about how you made your money, and the purpose of the new business. Drug lords and ladies, bank robbers and arms traffickers, mafia kingpins and queens and bribe takers and makers also use shell companies to obscure their identities and conceal money, assets and illicit activities. The wealthy keep the money to build intergenerational fortunes, creating a new global aristocratic class and exacerbating the divide between the global haves and have-nots.

University of Chicago law professor Daniel Hemel has a nice explainer here that describes how South Dakota became a tax haven and how the shelters work. In short, back in 1983 the legislature voted to end durational limits on trusts, ending a practice going back to English common law intended to prevent families from holding wealth in trust forever.

Individuals or Businesses benefit by saving tax, which in tax haven countries may range from zero to low single digits compared to high taxes in their country of citizenship or domicile. Tax havens may charge a fee for new registration of companies and renewal charges to be paid every year. Such fees and charges would add up to a recurring fixed income for the tax havens.

The European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund predicated an $11.8 billion bailout on the country’s agreement to comply with more robust tax participation. The program requires participating countries to automatically transmit tax-related banking information of non-citizen depositors to the countries in which they are citizens. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act , which passed in December 2017, set the effective corporate rate of U.S. taxes at 21%.

Why is Guernsey a tax haven?

Guernsey is a leading international financial centre with a good reputation and excellent standards: The general rate of tax payable by Guernsey companies is zero*. There is no capital gains tax, inheritance tax, value added tax or withholding tax. Income tax is generally a flat rate of 20%.

The 2017 TCJA seems to support this view with the U.S. exchequer being able to levy a 15.5% repatriation tax on over $1 trillion of untaxed offshore profits built up by U.S. multinationals with BEPS tools from non-U.S. Profits in the countries in which they were earned, there would have been the little further liability to U.S. taxation. Research by Zucman and Wright estimated that most of the TCJA repatriation benefit went to the shareholders of U.S. multinationals, and not the U.S. exchequer. Estimating the financial scale of tax havens is complicated by their inherent lack of transparency. Even jurisdictions that comply with OECD–transparency requirements such as Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, provide alternate secrecy tools (e.g. Trusts, QIAIFs and ULLs). For example, when the EU Commission discovered Apple’s tax rate in Ireland was 0.005%, they found Apple’s had used Irish ULLs to avoid filing Irish public accounts since the early 1990s. ♣ΔBahamas – acts as both a traditional tax haven , and ranks 8th on the ITEP profits list of corporate havens; 3rd highest secrecy score on the FSI.

Taiwan has been described as “Switzerland of Asia”, with a focus on secrecy. Although no Emerging market-related tax haven ranks in the five major global Conduit OFCs or any § Top 10 tax havens lists, both Taiwan and Mauritius rank in the top ten global Sink OFCs. So far, most of the discussion of this development in wealth management has been confined to specialist publications, where academic authors have found themselves making arguments you do not usually find in discussions of legal constructs as abstruse as trusts.

Tax Haven

The Cayman Islands have some of the best secrecy laws, while other countries that also rank high in secrecy and have low-to-no taxes are the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Guam, Taiwan, and Jersey. Systematically, the TCJA is known for being more territorial in nature than previous international tax laws. The international tax system under the TCJA exempts foreign profits from domestic taxation but has certain provisions for high return foreign profits.

Tax havens do not require businesses to operate out of their country or the individuals to reside in their country to receive tax benefits. The term “interest tax shield” refers to the reduced income taxes brought about by deductions to taxable income from a company’s interest expense. With mounting pressure from international organizations like OECD and the G-20, tax havens may find it difficult to sustain their carefree existence. Growing numbers of Tax Information Exchange Agreements and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties between tax havens and other countries like the U.S. would take away tax havens’ competitive advantage. Many well-regulated countries offer tax incentives for attracting outside investment but are not classified as tax havens.