Uber to Pay $20 Million to Settle FTC Charges

Uber Technologies, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company, will pay $20 million to resolve Federal Trade Commission charges that it misled prospective drivers with exaggerated earning claims and claims about financing through its Vehicle Solutions Program. The $20 million will be used to provide refunds to affected drivers across the country.

According to the FTC’s complaint, in its efforts to attract prospective drivers, Uber exaggerated the yearly and hourly income drivers could make in certain cities, and misled prospective drivers about the terms of its vehicle financing options.

— source corporatecrimereporter.com

Las Vegas Sands to Pay $7 Million Gets FCPA Non Prosecution Agreement

Las Vegas Sands will pay a $6.96 million criminal penalty and enter into a non prosecution agreement to resolve the government’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in connection with business transactions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Macao.

According to admissions by Sands made in connection with the resolution, certain Sands executives knowingly and willfully failed to implement a system of internal accounting controls to adequately ensure the legitimacy of payments to a business consultant who assisted Sands in promoting its brand in Macao and the PRC, and to prevent the false recording of those payments in its books and records.

In total, from 2006 through 2009, Sands paid about $5.8 million to the business consultant without any discernable legitimate business purpose, it admitted.

— source corporatecrimereporter.com

Banana protests, paltry fines and a PR problem

Iceland

Of all the world leaders shamed over hidden wealth stashed offshore, none was more unfortunate than Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. The hapless prime minister of Iceland was caught on camera desperately trying to work out how to explain the presence of his signature on the documents of Wintris Inc, a company in the British Virgin Islands that held shares in one of the country’s failed banks.

As many as one in 10 Icelanders protested in front of the Alþingi, the national parliament, demonstrating their anger through the time-honoured tradition of hurling Icelandic yoghurt and waving bananas. Gunnlaugsson eventually resigned – and in so doing, launched a year of political upheaval; this month, the Pirate party was invited to form a government.

Pakistan

Three-time Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif has spent the whole year trying to face down the discovery that his children had raised loans against multimillion-pound properties on Park Lane in London, owned through offshore companies.

“He is in trouble. I think he is going to find it impossible to govern Pakistan,” opposition leader Imran Khan told the Guardian in April. In November, Khan’s plan to “lock down” the capital Islamabad with a coordinated protest by thousands of his supporters was called off after the supreme court ordered a corruption inquiry. That the revelation prompted so much public anger is all the more striking in light of the fact that Sharif was first linked to the property 16 years ago.

Stolen art

Seated Man with a Cane, an £18m painting by Modigliani, has for years been at the centre of a legal battle between the Nahmads, a family of New York art dealers, and the descendants of Oscar Stettiner, the Jewish gallery owner from whom the painting was seized by the Nazis in 1940.

The Nahmads have long insisted that they don’t own the painting because the International Art Center, a company incorporated in Panama, bought it at auction. But the Panama Papers revealed the Nahmads to be the owners of the company, and within days the Modigliani, which had been languishing in a tax-free Geneva warehouse known as a “freeport”, was seized by Swiss police. The dispute continues.

Australia

About 170kg of silver bullion and $150,000 of coins were among the items seized by Australian police in Camp Mountain, Queensland, earlier this year after they conducted raids against suspected tax evaders based on analysis of the papers. More than $2.5bn was reportedly connected to the 1,000 Australians that appeared in the files, with 100 facing compliance action as a result of the revelations.

UK

HMRC has a miserable record of pursuing offshore tax malfeasance, with just a single tax evader prosecuted after it was handed a disc of data naming thousands of British clients of HSBC Private Bank Suisse. So a swiftly created Panama Papers taskforce, set up by Downing Street to “deal with any wrongdoing” brought to light by the investigation, was looked upon by many with a degree of scepticism.

But a statement by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to parliament in November suggests that, staggeringly, action is being taken: 22 people are now under suspected investigation for tax evasion; 43 high net worth individuals (the super-rich to you and me) are under examination over their links to Panama; two properties have been connected with a National Crime Agency inquiry, and 26 offshore companies with property ownership are considered by the NCA to be “suspicious”.

Panama

While the rest of the world focused on the leaked files’ revelations of massive wealth hidden offshore, potential sanctions-busting and the facilitation of grand corruption, the government of Panama called for attention to shift to a much more important problem: the name of the reporting series.

“Despite their name, the Panama Papers are not mainly about Panama,” wrote Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela in the New York Times. “It’s not about Panama, it’s about one company. Nobody called it the Texas fraud when Enron [went] bankrupt,” agreed Ivan Zarak, the vice-minister of the economy. “It’s unjust. You are holding accountable the whole country for the actions of one company.”

An attempt at crisis management involving an independent report to assess the transparency of the country’s financial system promptly fell apart after the government refused to commit to publishing the findings.

The cellist

Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of Vladimir Putin and an inexplicably wealthy musician, gave a performance in Palmyra in May after the ancient city was liberated from Islamic State control. Beyond simply a celebration of Russian success in the military response to Isis, the spectacle could be interpreted as a public display of the president’s continued affection for the cellist, despite all that offshore awkwardness that exposed Roldugin’s links to Putin’s hidden fortune. Isis was reported to have retaken the city early this month.

Arron Banks

At the time the Panama Papers were published, Ukip financier Arron Banks was having a jolly time campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union and wasn’t about to let journalists spoil his fun by reporting on PRI Holdings Limited. PRI Holdings? Nothing to do with me! You’ll be hearing from my lawyers, sir!

Banks later published a sort of self-congratulatory EU referendum diary, in which his entry for 5 April 2016 suggests that this steadfast denial might not have been entirely accurate.

“At first I denied having anything to do with it as it just didn’t ring any bells,” he explained. “However, I got someone at the office to look into it and discovered that we did actually use a law firm to set up a couple of companies for a project that didn’t end up happening.” Banks was “thousands of miles away on a boat in the British Virgin Islands” at the time, where it’s probably quite easy to forget about offshore companies.

David Cameron

The then prime minister’s four days of April prevarication over how to respond to the discovery of his father’s offshore fund in the Panama Papers was widely described as his “worst week ever”, which seems naive, post-everything else in 2016, but felt reasonable at the time.

In his rushed-out political memoirs, Cameron’s media adviser Craig Oliver revealed that he was worried the PM might have to resign over the scandal, and that Cameron had also invested “in something called the Vietnamese Enterprise Fund”. Oliver describes a remarkably chaotic press operation, with the Camerons spending hours on the phone with accountants and Oliver not actually discovering the PM had owned offshore shares until two days after the story first broke.

Mossack Fonseca

Mossack Fonseca, the offshore services firm at the centre of the entire scandal, continues to operate. The British Virgin Islands, where it incorporated most of its clients’ companies, administered a “record” fine of just under $500,000 (£404,000) and cheerfully allowed them to continue incorporating new shell companies.

However, the firm, which continues to insist it did nothing wrong, has had nine of its offices around the world, including in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, closed down. Several of its staff have been arrested, including one junior Venezuelan employee currently being held in a military prison in Caracas.

— source theguardian.com By David Pegg

Deutsche Bank to Pay Millions in Fines for Helping Wealthy Russians Launder US$ 10 Billion

Deutsche Bank said Monday it will pay US$ 625 million to US and UK financial authorities to settle charges that it helped Russian investors launder up to US$ 10 billion. At the end of last year the bank agreed to pay US$ 7.2 billion to the US Department of Justice for selling dubious mortgage securities. This time Germany’s largest bank has agreed to pay US$ 425 million to New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) and 163 million pounds (US$ 202 million) to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to settle money laundering allegations.

— source occrp.org

All private banks are criminals.

Google To Pay EUR280m In Back Taxes To Italy

Google has agreed to pay up to EUR280m (USD296m) to settle corporate income tax said to be due to the Italian Revenue Agency, according to Italian media reports.

One year ago, the Revenue Agency disclosed that the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s financial police, had served notice on Google with regard to its past tax payments in the country.

It was then reported that the Guardia was alleging that Google had a permanent establishment in Italy in the years between 2009 and 2013, and Italian taxes were therefore payable, for example, on the income received from clients in Italy.

The launching of the case against Google followed the agreement made by the Revenue Agency with Apple Italia at the end of December 2015, wherein Apple Italia agreed to pay EUR318m to fully settle Italian corporate income tax said to be due since 2008.

— source tax-news.com

Google dodged 2015 Taxes by $3.6 Billion

Alphabet Inc.’s Google saved $3.6 billion in worldwide taxes in 2015 by moving 14.9 billion euros ($15.5 billion) to a Bermuda shell company, new regulatory filings in the Netherlands reveal.

The amount the company shifted through its Dutch subsidiary, Google Netherlands Holdings BV, and then on to a Bermuda mailbox was 40 percent greater than in 2014, according to filings the company made with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 12 and which were made available online Tuesday. News of the filings was first reported by the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad.

Alphabet moves the bulk of its non-U.S. profits through this Dutch subsidiary, which has no employees. The company has used the Netherlands company since 2004 as part of a tax structure dubbed a “Double Irish” and a “Dutch sandwich.” By moving most of its international profits to Bermuda, the company was able to reduce its effective tax rate outside the U.S. to 6.4 percent in 2015, according to Alphabet’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Google complies with the tax laws in every country where we operate,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. In February, Google also said such calculations of an effective tax rate do not reflect the methods actually used to determine its international taxes in any jurisdiction.

Some 12 billion euros of the money funneled through the Dutch company in 2015 came from Google Ireland Limited, which collects most of Google’s international advertising revenues. The rest came from a Google subsidiary in Singapore that serves a similar role. The Dutch company then transfers this money on to Google Ireland Holdings Unlimited, which has the right to license Google’s intellectual property outside the U.S. That company is based in Bermuda, which has no corporate income tax. The use of the two Irish entities is what gives the structure its “Double Irish” moniker.

The total amount of profit Google had sheltered from U.S. taxation, most of which passes through its Dutch subsidiary en route to Bermuda, grew to $58.3 billion in 2015, according to Alphabet’s SEC filings.

The Irish government closed the tax loophole that permitted “Double Irish” tax arrangements in 2015. Companies already using the structure, however, are allowed to continue employing it until the end of 2020.

Google is under pressure from regulators and tax authorities around the world for not paying enough tax. On Tuesday, Indonesia set a Dec. 31 deadline for Google to resolve a tax dispute there, including a possible $223 million fine. The company’s offices in Spain and France have also been raided by tax investigators in the past year.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has discussed possible changes to U.S. tax laws in order to allow American companies to repatriate foreign profits at a one-time tax rate of 10 percent. That would eliminate some of the incentive U.S. companies currently have to hold foreign profits outside the U.S. Tech firms have some of the largest such stockpiles, with Apple holding $181 billion outside the U.S. and Microsoft holding $94.4 billion, according to their 2015 annual SEC filings.

— source bloomberg.com By Jeremy Kahn and Martijn Van Der Starre