How had the little firm operating out of a non-descript office building in Nevada achieved this claim to fame? By managing the cash hoard (now well over $200 billion) of the world’s biggest and most valuable company: Apple.
But what was perhaps more notable is where Braeburn was physically located: Reno, Nevada.
We explained the company’s choice for location with one simple word: “taxes”, or rather the full, and very much legal, avoidance thereof.
Three and a half years later we encounter this quiet Nevada town once again, and once again it is Reno’s aura of tax evasion that brings is to the world’s attention courtesy of a Bloomberg report discussing “The World’s Favorite New Tax Haven.”
Only instead of Apple this time, the focus falls on a far more notorious company: the Rotschilds.
As Bloomberg writes, “last September, at a law firm overlooking San Francisco Bay, Andrew Penney, a managing director at Rothschild & Co., gave a talk on how the world’s wealthy elite can avoid paying taxes. His message was clear: You can help your clients move their fortunes to the United States, free of taxes and hidden from their governments. Some are calling it the new Switzerland.”
Ah, the rich irony: years after Obama single-handedly destroyed the secrecy-based Swiss banking model, the U.S. itself has taken over the role of the world’s biggest, if no longer very secret, tax haven, and the epicenter is this modest Nevada city located next to lake Tahoe, which has become the favorite city, if only for tax purposes, for such names as Apple and the Rothschild family.
The Swiss are not amused:
After years of lambasting other countries for helping rich Americans hide their money offshore, the U.S. is emerging as a leading tax and secrecy haven for rich foreigners. By resisting new global disclosure standards, the U.S. is creating a hot new market, becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth. Everyone from London lawyers to Swiss trust companies is getting in on the act, helping the world’s rich move accounts from places like the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands to Nevada, Wyoming, and South Dakota.
“How ironic—no, how perverse—that the USA, which has been so sanctimonious in its condemnation of Swiss banks, has become the banking secrecy jurisdiction du jour,” wrote Peter A. Cotorceanu, a lawyer at Anaford AG, a Zurich law firm, in a recent legal journal. “That ‘giant sucking sound’ you hear? It is the sound of money rushing to the USA.”
It will probably come as no surprise, that the firm at the center of it all is the (in)famous financial institution: Rotschild & Company.
Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, has opened a trust company in Reno, Nev., a few blocks from the Harrah’s and Eldorado casinos. It is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens such as Bermuda, subject to the new international disclosure requirements, and into Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.
The firm says its Reno operation caters to international families attracted to the stability of the U.S. and that customers must prove they comply with their home countries’ tax laws. Its trusts, moreover, have “not been set up with a view to exploiting that the U.S. has not signed up” for international reporting standards, said Rothschild spokeswoman Emma Rees.
And where the Rothschilds are to be found, everyone else quickly arrives: “Geneva-based Cisa Trust Co. SA, which advises wealthy Latin Americans, is applying to open in Pierre, S.D., to “serve the needs of our foreign clients,” said John J. Ryan Jr., Cisa’s president.”
Trident Trust Co., one of the world’s biggest providers of offshore trusts, moved dozens of accounts out of Switzerland, Grand Cayman, and other locales and into Sioux Falls, S.D., in December, ahead of a Jan. 1 disclosure deadline.
“Cayman was slammed in December, closing things that people were withdrawing,” said Alice Rokahr, the president of Trident in South Dakota, one of several states promoting low taxes and confidentiality in their trust laws. “I was surprised at how many were coming across that were formerly Swiss bank accounts, but they want out of Switzerland.”
Next comes the need to legitimize US hypocrisy and to justify how America, in demanding everyone else opens their books, is ignored when not only does it keep its own books closed but is openly welcoming all those millionaires and billionaires whose offshore accounts were closed as a result of US intervention!
Rokahr and other advisers said there is a legitimate need for secrecy. Confidential accounts that hide wealth, whether in the U.S., Switzerland, or elsewhere, protect against kidnappings or extortion in their owners’ home countries. The rich also often feel safer parking their money in the U.S. rather than some other location perceived as less-sure.
“I do not hear anybody saying, ‘I want to avoid taxes,’ ” Rokahr said. “These are people who are legitimately concerned with their own health and welfare.”
Picture that: nobody wants to admit they are intent on evading taxes to their financial advisor. How quaint. But the greatest thing about US-based tax evasion is that it is taking place right under the nose of the world’s allegedly biggest tax-fraud chaser. It also happens to be perfectly legal.
There’s nothing illegal about banks luring foreigners to put money in the U.S. with promises of confidentiality as long as they are not intentionally helping to evade taxes abroad. Still, the U.S. is one of the few places left where advisers are actively promoting accounts that will remain secret from overseas authorities.
Put all that together, and one company has realized there are billions in “fees” to be made by taking advantage of what is now officially the biggest hypocrite in the world: the United States of America. And adding insult to irony is that the “not easy to find” Rothschild Reno office is located just 6 floors away from the U.S. attorney’s office!
Rothschild’s Reno office is at the forefront of that effort. “The Biggest Little City in the World” is not an obvious choice for a global center of capital flight. If you were going to shoot a film set in Las Vegas circa 1971, you would film it in Reno. Its casino hotels tower above the bail bondsmen across the street, available 24/7, as well as pawnshops stocked with an array of firearms. The pink neon lights at casinos like Harrah’s and the Eldorado still burn bright. But these days, their floors are often empty, with travelers preferring to gamble in Las Vegas, an hour’s flight away.
The offices of Rothschild Trust North America LLC aren’t easy to find. They’re on the 12th floor of Porsche’s former North American headquarters building, a few blocks from the casinos. (The U.S. attorney’s office is on the sixth floor.) Yet the lobby directory does not list Rothschild. Instead, visitors must go to the 10th floor, the offices of McDonald Carano Wilson LLP, a politically connected law firm. Several former high-ranking Nevada state officials work there, as well as the owner of some of Reno’s biggest casinos and numerous registered lobbyists. One of the firm’s tax lobbyists is Robert Armstrong, viewed as the state’s top trusts and estates attorney, and a manager of Rothschild Trust North America.
A little history: the trust company was set up in 2013 to cater to international families, particularly those with a mix of assets and relatives in the U.S. and abroad, according to Rothschild. It caters to customers attracted to the “stable, regulated environment” of the U.S., said Rees, the Rothschild spokeswoman.
“We do not offer legal structures to clients unless we are absolutely certain that their tax affairs are in order; both clients themselves and independent tax lawyers must actively confirm to us that this is the case,” Rees said.
Reread that sentence again, and this time try not to laugh: imagine a world in which both clients and tax lawyers, who are both conflicted and incentivized monetarily to lie, affirmatively confirm that they are not tax cheats? This is almost as good as Wall Street policing itself.
The managing director of the Nevada trust company is Scott Cripps, an amiable California tax attorney who used to run the trust services for Bank of the West, now part of French financial-services giant BNP Paribas SA. Cripps explained that moving money out of traditional offshore secrecy jurisdictions and into Nevada is a brisk new line of business for Rothschild.
“There’s a lot of people that are going to do it,” said Cripps. “This added layer of privacy is kicking them over the hurdle” to move their assets into the U.S. For wealthy overseas clients, “privacy is huge, especially in countries where there is corruption.”
Here are some examples of families whose affairs are in order (after active self-confirmation of just that):
One wealthy Turkish family is using Rothschild’s trust company to move assets from the Bahamas into the U.S., he said. Another Rothschild client, a family from Asia, is moving assets from Bermuda into Nevada. He said customers are often international families with offspring in the U.S.
America’s gain is Switzerland’s, that centuries-old tax haven’s, loss: Switzerland has been the global capital of secret bank accounts. That may be changing. In 2007, UBS Group AG banker Bradley Birkenfeld blew the whistle on his firm helping U.S. clients evade taxes with undeclared accounts offshore. Swiss banks eventually paid a price. More than 80 Swiss banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse Group AG, have agreed to pay about $5 billion to the U.S. in penalties and fines.
Guess who was among them? why yes, Rothschild Bank AG last June entered into a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The bank admitted helping U.S. clients hide income offshore from the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to pay an $11.5 million penalty and shut down nearly 300 accounts belonging to U.S. taxpayers, totaling $794 million in assets.
Well, Rothschild is doing it all over again, only this time in Uncle Sam’s back yard. Wait, you mean paying a $11.5 million penalty didn’t teach it a lesson? No way.
But even more tragicomic is the US push for tax transparency, known as the FATCA. Well, a push everywhere except in the US itself.
The U.S. was determined to put an end to such practices. That led to a 2010 law, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or Fatca, that requires financial firms to disclose foreign accounts held by U.S. citizens and report them to the IRS or face steep penalties. Inspired by Fatca, the OECD drew up even stiffer standards to help other countries ferret out tax dodgers. Since 2014, 97 jurisdictions have agreed to impose new disclosure requirements for bank accounts, trusts, and some other investments held by international customers. Of the nations the OECD asked to sign on, only a handful have declined: Bahrain, Nauru, Vanuatu—and the United States.
“I have a lot of respect for the Obama administration because without their first moves we would not have gotten these reporting standards,” said Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament from Germany’s Green Party. “On the other hand, now it’s time for the U.S. to deliver what Europeans are willing to deliver to the U.S.”
As it turns out the US had no qualms about implementing global tax disclosure standards… as long as it itself would be exempt and benefit from the entire world parking its criminal money on US territory:
The Treasury Department makes no apologies for not agreeing to the OECD standards. “The U.S. has led the charge in combating international tax evasion using offshore financial accounts,” said Treasury spokesman Ryan Daniels. He said the OECD initiative “builds directly” on the Fatca law.
“To the extent non-U.S. persons are encouraged to come to the U.S. for what may be our own ‘tax haven’ characteristics, the U.S. government would likely take a dim view of any marketing suggesting that evading home country tax is a legal objective,” he said.
And since the US now openly welcome all forms of hot, laundered, embezzled, or otherwise misappropriated money, there are countless banks willing to provide the service of parking that money in the US… for a commission. What amounts are we talking about?
At issue is not just non-U.S. citizens skirting their home countries’ taxes. Treasury also is concerned that massive inflows of capital into secret accounts could become a new channel for criminal money laundering. At least $1.6 trillion in illicit funds are laundered through the global financial system each year, according to a United Nations estimate.
And most of those funds are now being parked in the US, where a key portal is Rothshild’s Reno, NV office.
But what makes this particular case of tax evasion particularly abominable is that it is nothing less than a symbiosis between proven and charged tax evaders and a U.S. government which has once again proven it can be bought for pennies on the dollar by banks like Rothschild, and legislate to make sure the bank continues pocketing billions in fees for the foreseeable future.
We dare readers to read the following several concluding sections without sending their blood pressure to dangerously homicidal levels:
For financial advisers, the current state of play is simply a good business opportunity. In a draft of his San Francisco presentation, Rothschild’s Penney wrote that the U.S. “is effectively the biggest tax haven in the world.” The U.S., he added in language later excised from his prepared remarks, lacks “the resources to enforce foreign tax laws and has little appetite to do so.”
Rothschild says it takes “significant care” to ensure account holders’ assets are fully declared. The bank “adheres to the legal, regulatory, and tax rules wherever we operate,” said Rees, the Rothschild spokeswoman.
Except in cases like Switzerland where it didn’t exactly “adhere to the legal, regulatory, and tax rules.” This time will be different though.
Penney, who oversees the Reno business, is a longtime Rothschild lawyer who worked his way up from the firm’s trust operations in the tiny British isle of Guernsey. Penney, 56, is now a managing director based in London for Rothschild Wealth Management & Trust, which handles about $23 billion for 7,000 clients from offices including Milan, Zurich, and Hong Kong. A few years ago he was voted “Trustee of the Year” by an elite group of U.K. wealth advisers.
In his September San Francisco talk, called “Using U.S. Trusts in International Planning: 10 Amazing Feats to Impress Clients and Colleagues,” Penney laid out legal ways to avoid both U.S. taxes and disclosures to clients’ home countries.
In a section originally titled “U.S. Trusts to Preserve Privacy,” he included the hypothetical example of an Internet investor named “Wang, a Hong Kong resident,” originally from the People’s Republic of China, concerned that information about his wealth could be shared with Chinese authorities.
Instead Wang will buy, sight unseen a Manhattan duplex for call it $50 million or whatever amount the seller demands, using a Nevada LLC with which to shield his purchase. In the process Wang’s purchase, under the sage advice of Rothschild’s Mr. Penney, assures that the luxury US housing bubble grows so big, and real estate prices rise so high, not a single law-abiding US citizen can afford to buy any form of luxury real estate.
Putting his assets into a Nevada LLC, in turn owned by a Nevada trust, would generate no U.S. tax returns, Penney wrote. Any forms the IRS would receive would result in “no meaningful information to exchange under” agreements between Hong Kong and the U.S., according to Penney’s PowerPoint presentation reviewed by Bloomberg.
Keep in mind: all of this is legal, and with the express permission of a US government, which one can rightly say is as criminal as any of the advisors who are merely explaining to their wealthy clients how to cheat the system best.
There was a catch: not all western governments are muppets for the Rothschilds of the world:
“Penney offered a disclaimer: At least one government, the U.K., intends to make it a criminal offense for any U.K. firm to facilitate tax evasion.”
Of course not the US, even though with that line it makes it very clear that what the US is doing is encouraing the criminal offense of facilitating tax evasion. Or maybe not.
Rothschild said the PowerPoint was subsequently revised before Penney delivered his presentation. The firm provided what it said was the final version of the talk, which this time excluded several potentially controversial passages. Among them: the U.S. being the “biggest tax haven in the world,” the U.S.’s low appetite for enforcing other countries’ tax laws, and two references to “privacy” offered by the U.S.
“The presentation was drafted in response to a request by the organizers to be controversial and create a lively debate among the experienced, professional audience,” Rees said. “On reviewing the initial draft, these lines were not deemed to represent either Rothschild’s or Mr. Penney’s view. They were therefore removed.”
And that was that.
* * *
While none of the above should come as a surprise to anyone who has been following our series since 2012 showing how US real estate has been used by foreign oligarchs to park illegal cash, what we would find very interesting in the next and final expose in this series, is for Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker to find how many billions (or maybe only millions – the US government is a very cheap whore) were paid under the table by Rothschild et al to bribe the US government to enable this kind of circular, incestuous legalized tax fraud on US soil, one for which Rothschild will collect billions in financial advisory fees for the indefinite future, and which blatantly steals from those who do pay their taxes: the middle class.