The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just released a trove of leaked tax documents detailing the deals made between PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Luxembourg Ministry of Finance on behalf of more than 300 companies that allowed them to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars through the duchy virtually tax free.
“A Luxembourg structure is a way of stripping income from whatever country it comes from,” said Harvard Law professor and specialist on international taxation Stephen Shay in the article introducing the database. “[Luxemburg] combines enormous flexibility to set up tax reduction schemes, along with binding tax rulings that are unique. It’s like a magical fairyland.”
Luxemburg tax deals: Companies ranging from Blackstone Group to Guardian Media named
The names, some of which are still withheld, read like a who’s who of big business. Private equity firms The Blackstone Group L.P. (NYSE:BX) and The Carlyle Group LP (NASDAQ:CG) are both on the list, as are major banks including HSBC Holdings plc (ADR) (NYSE:HSBC) (LON:HSBA), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), and investment companies like Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd (OTCMKTS:FRFHF) (TSE:FFH) and Boston Consulting Group.
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You’ve got big tech companies including Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), telecoms like Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) (LON:VOD) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), the list goes on and on. One of the withheld names that’s expected to come out next week is in the financial sector with a name that fits between ‘Delff Management’ and ‘Developers Diversified Realty Corp’ in alphabetical order, so you’ll forgive us for thinking Deutsche Bank might be soon added to the list.
But it’s not just tech and finance cutting corners: H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ), Pepsi Bottling Group, and Guardian Media Group (which operates liberal newspaper The Guardian) also have tax deals in Luxemburg.
Documents should aid investigations into Luxemburg tax rulings
Luxemburg has been known as a tax haven years, so there’s no reason to believe either that PwC is the only major accounting firm arranging such deals or that these are the only companies with special tax structures in the tiny nation, but the level of detail contained in these letters is stunning and should be a boon to regulators (if not prosecutors) for a long time to come.
The most immediate case has to do with EU regulators trying to get hold of documents relating to Amazon and Fiat Finance to determine if those deals violate European law.
“It’s unclear whether any of these documents are among those still being sought by EU investigators, but they are the kinds of documents that go to the heart of the EU’s investigation into Luxembourg’s tax rulings,” write Leslie Wayne, Kelly Carr, Marina Walker Guevara, Mar Cabra and Michael Hudson for ICIJ.