Multinationals hiding more than half a trillion from G20 tax collectors

Your money needs a holiday: send it to sunny Bermuda

In 2012, something like US$80 billion worth of multinationals' profits worked on their suntans in Bermuda, according to an international report into profit-shuffling and tax avoidance.

Oxfam, the Tax Justice Network, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, and Public Services International have put their heads and wallets together to fund a report into how multinationals are picking the pockets of G20 nations.

In one way, it's no surprise: the world's top economies are, pretty much by definition, the places where multinationals will make the most money. However, they also have the best resources to try and get companies to pay their taxes, and if the Oxfam et al report is accurate, they're getting gamed hand-over-fist.

The report says just twelve countries (the USA, Germany, Canada, China, Brazil, France, Mexico, India, the UK, Spain and Australia) account for 90 per cent of US multinationals' “missing” profits.

Those profits get processed through various implementations of the “Irish-Dutch sandwich” to be booked in low-tax countries like the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Bermuda.

If the numbers are accurate (the report's authors put a number of caveats on the data), then between $500 and $700 billion gets shuffled around in this way, which is how Bermuda found itself home to $80 billion worth of profits in 2012 (its GDP in the same year was a paltry $5.47 billion).

The tech sector, in particular, has been under scrutiny around the world over how its tax affairs are structured. Google, Microsoft and Apple were quizzed in an Australian Senate committee back in April, the UK has floated a tax plan to whack a surcharge on companies shifting taxes out of the country, and the US Congress has sporadically criticised the sector.

The Oxfam report Still Broken is based on research by Alex Cobham and Petr Janský. It's based on data from America's Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the biggest gotcha in the data, the authors say, is that the BEA data is “aggregated at the national level and subject to many and varying suppressions”.

Oxfam's release of the report is here. ®

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