Opening the vaults: the use of tax havens by Europe’s biggest banks

7 April 2017 by Oxfam

This report from Oxfam on the EU banking sector provides just a glimpse into the harm that tax abuse is causing across the world.

The findings are stark:

- The 20 biggest European banks register around one in every four euros of their profits in tax havens, an estimated total of €25bn in 2015. The business conducted by banks in low-tax jurisdictions is clearly disproportionate to the 1 percent of the world population and the 5 percent of the world’s GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
that these tax haven Tax haven A territory characterized by the following five independent criteria:
(a) opacity (via bank secrecy or another mechanism such as trusts);
(b) low taxes, sometimes as low as zero for non-residents;
(c) easy regulations permitting the creation of front companies and no necessity for these companies to have a real activity on the territory;
(d) lack of cooperation with the inland revenue, customs and/or judicial departments of other countries;
(e) weak or non-existent financial regulation. Switzerland, the City of London and Luxembourg receive the majority of the capital placed in tax havens. Others exist, of course, such as the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Hong Kong and other exotic locations.
countries account for.
- While tax havens account for 26 percent of the total profits made by the top 20 EU banks, these countries account for only 12 percent of the banks’ total turnover and 7 percent of their employees, signalling a clear discrepancy between the profits made by banks in tax havens and the level of real economic activity that they undertake in those countries.
- In 2015 the 20 biggest European banks made profits of €4.9bn in Luxembourg – more than they did in the UK, Sweden and Germany combined.
- Barclays, the fifth biggest European bank, registered €557m of its profits in Luxembourg and paid €1m in taxes in 2015 – an e¬ffective tax rate of 0.2 percent.
- Often banks do not pay any tax at all on profits booked in tax havens. European banks did not pay a single euro of tax on €383m of profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. made in tax havens in 2015.
- At the same time, a number of these banks are registering losses in countries where they operate. Deutsche Bank, for example, registered a loss in Germany while booking profits of €1,897m in tax havens.
- A large proportion of these profits is made despite the banks not employing a single person in the countries concerned. Overall, at least €628m of the European banks’ profits were made in countries where they employ nobody.
- Fifty-nine percent of the EU banks’ US subsidiaries were domiciled in Delaware and 42 per cent of those subsidiaries for which an address could be found were located at the exact same address, a building famous for being the legal address of more than 285,000 companies.
- Low levels of profit in countries that are not tax havens translate into low tax revenues for those countries’ governments. For instance, Indonesia and Monaco have a similar level of economic activity by European banks, but the banks make 10 times more profit in Monaco than they do in Indonesia. Such gaps, which can hardly be explained on the basis of ‘real’ economic activity, lead to the loss of vital tax revenues to fight inequality and poverty to countries like Indonesia, where 28 million people live in extreme poverty.

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