According to a new study, the world’s super-rich are shielding at least $21 trillion in secret offshore tax havens. Using data from the Bank of International Settlements, IMF, World Bank, and national governments, the Tax Justice Network found that an astonishing 100,000 people worldwide hold nearly $10 trillion of offshore wealth, equivalent to the size of the Chinese economy. According to the study:
1. Big banks manage the wealth. The three private banks handling the most assets offshore are UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs.
2. Offshore wealth is creating a global economic “black hole.” If the $21 trillion in offshore earned a conservatively-estimated 3 percent rate of return, and that income was taxed at just 30 percent, this would generate tax revenues of nearly $200 billion — roughly twice the amount OECD countries spend on international development assistance.
3. High impact on developing countries. In the 139 developing countries highlighted in the report, the richest citizens had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth that is beyond the reach of local tax authorities. The report reveals that many developing “debtor” countries are actually quite wealthy, but the money is held by a few individuals.
4. Huge tax haven growth in the last few years. In 2005, the world’s top 50 banks managed $5.4 trillion in offshore money. By the end of 2010, the figure is over $12 trillion, representing an average annual growth rate of more than 16 percent.
This tax avoidance study comes at a time when many are questioning presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s use of tax havens. As an executive at Bain Capital, Romney routed investments through companies in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands to allow investors to avoid U.S. taxes.