The Rock Star, The Nude Estates, and the Lithuanian Shopping Mall
Ernie Neve, CPA
November 15, 2017
We've all got an image in our minds of who uses "offshore tax havens" to host their business. Let's say you're a junior-varsity Russian oligarch. You've spent a lifetime looting your country's resources like an all-you-can-steal buffet, and now it's time to take some of your chipskis off the table. You buy a flat in London's posh Mayfair, or maybe a condo overlooking New York's Central Park. Then you stash the rest of your rubles in some sunny flyspeck of an island like Bermuda or the Caymans, where Putin's goons can't steal them back.
But most people who do business offshore aren't crooked billionaires. They're perfectly legitimate multinational corporations, business owners, and investors just like us. If you've worn shoes from Nike, made calls on an iPhone, or downloaded music from Sheryl Crow, you've even done business with them!
Last month, the investigative journalists who brought us 2016's Panama Papers dropped Season Two of their effort to expose how the global 1% use international entities to structure their wealth. The "Paradise Papers" include 13.4 million electronic documents, mostly gleaned through a "data security incident" from the Bermuda-based law firm of Appleby Spurling Hunter. And one of the names that those intrepid detectives uncovered was Paul David Hewson, originally from Dublin's middle-class Finglas suburb.
Of course, you probably know Hewson better by his stage name, Bono. (His U2 bandmates dubbed him Bono Vox, meaning "good voice," in high school.) Now, Bono's made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career. But he's also hobnobbed with the Dalai Lama and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He's hardly the sort of guy you'd expect to be moving money in mysterious ways. So what's the deal? Here's how the BBC lays it out:
"Bono owned a share in the Ausra shopping center located in the Lithuanian city of Utena via his stake in a company called Nude Estates, based in Malta. In 2007, Nude Estates bought the mall via a company they incorporated in Lithuania called UAB Nude Estates 2. In 2012, Nude Estates Malta Ltd. transferred the ownership of both Nude Estates 2 and the mall to a new offshore company, Nude Estates 1, based on the English island of Guernsey. Both Malta and Guernsey are low-tax jurisdictions, though foreign investors pay a five percent tax on company profits in Malta, while they pay no tax in Guernsey."
There you have it. Even paying 5% tax in Malta, they still hadn't found what they were looking for. So Nude Estates tripped through the waters with Bono's money for the rattle and hum of tax-free Guernsey. Bono himself seemed taken aback by the disclosure. He said he would be distressed if "anything less than exemplary" was done with his name anywhere near it. And he said, "I take this stuff very seriously. I have campaigned for the beneficial ownership of offshore companies to be made transparent. Indeed this is why my name is on documents rather than in a trust."
Here in the U.S, we're subject to tax on all our worldwide income, no matter where it's earned. That means that moving investments offshore doesn't convey any sort of automatic tax benefit, with or without you. Fortunately, the same internal revenue code that taxes us on foreign income offers countless strategies to minimize or avoid that tax. All you really need is a plan. So call us when you desire to save, and let's see if we can rescue enough wasted tax dollars to send you someplace where the streets have no name!