Why Banking Secrecy Is Dead or Dying in Most Countries Today and Its Significance to You
It has been estimated that several millions of Americans do business offshore to take advantage of strong privacy and secrecy laws. Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Singapore, Austria, and Panama have been at the top of many lists for this purpose. But, developments in recent years have negated much of the secrecy benefits of these businesses and offshore accounts.
Some countries for example, like Switzerland, no longer wish to have new accounts from Americans. Even Panama, whose banking secrecy was written into their constitution, signed a tax information exchange agreement with the U.S on November 30, 2010. Implementation of this treaty agreement will actually require changes to their Constitution. For most Americans who already follow the legally required reporting requirements of U.S. laws, it probably has little practical significance. It is however, an indication of an alarming trend.
Why and how is banking secrecy being killed? Governments worldwide today are in dangerous financial straits. It is true that most of them have brought it upon themselves by overspending on unsustainable entitlement programs. And, for those who can not print money to pay off their obligations, their situation is even tighter.
Successful business men and wealthy individuals have taken their businesses and personal wealth to other governmental jurisdictions to avoid increasingly higher taxes. In turn their home jurisdictions have attempted to put in place laws to collect taxes on these individual’s worldwide income. The U.S. has even gone as far as to institute what amounts to an exit tax when a person chooses to give up his or her U.S. citizenship.
TIEA’s (Tax Information Exchange Agreements) are being implemented among many countries through poorly veiled economic extortion tactics. This was part of the reason for the TIEA between the United States and the Republic of Panama. Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress last year criticized Panama as a tax haven, and insisted on a tax information agreement as a prerequisite for possible ratification of a trade agreement between the two countries.
The Organization for Economic Development (OECD), with its 30 plus members and associated non-members constantly puts pressure on countries with secrecy laws to enter tax exchange agreements with other nations in hopes of enlarging the major economic power player’s coffers.
Can you still protect your assets abroad? The answer is yes. Offshore asset protection is not necessarily tied to continued secrecy and the advantages of locating you and your assets in offshore locations still has distinct advantages. For one thing, going offshore with your assets can get you off the radar of the U.S. asset tracking network largely used by attorneys and investigators to identify unencumbered funds which they wish to attach. This significantly reduces your chances of nuisance lawsuits.
Even if it is known where the assets are located, the chances of removing them from an offshore location is much more difficult. An entire new legal process in the offshore location has to be initiated. For those of us who are not in the millionaire category, the likelihood of such an event is unlikely. Protecting your assets through offshore tactics should only be done with proper legal counsel. It is not a do-it-yourself project in most cases.