Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 2
. Were such questions to beexcluded, we would be left with nothing but theissue of just taxation, which also arises, as we wellknow, when, in Sicily, one baker must make acontribution to the honourable society, and an-other not … It is more productive, particularly inmatters of taxation, to leave morality aside, andto take a non-judgmental view of tax liability, themeeting of obligations, and, if need be, the vari-ous forms of evasion, as givens resulting from theprevailing legislation and its enforceability.Which brings us to the third thing that seemsremarkable. What exactly was the “prevailinglegislation”? And what about its enforceability?In 1996, the USA concluded a new double taxa-tion agreement with Switzerland, which, amongother things, regulated the conditions for adminis-trative assistance in matters of taxation. Switzer-land agreed to provide assistance with regard to“tax fraud
and the like
”. In other words, the ex-tension of the concept of “tax fraud” had longbeen pre-programmed; the USA had to wait forits enforcement only until Switzerland had appar-ently, and perhaps in reality, been driven into acorner by the activities of the accident-proneUBS. In fact, truth to tell, we should have known:Swiss banking secrecy with regard to the USAwas well and truly relativized not in 2009, butalready in 1996.What we need to do now,
sine ira et studio
, (andputting aside all politically motivated window-dressing, all genuine, or merely nominal, moralissues) is to analyze the situation, draw conclu-sions and, where necessary, act upon them. This isexactly what we intend to do in what follows, bytaking a closer look at two important componentsof American tax law. And, surprise, surprise; thenext round of fiscal enforcement staged by theAmericans will be devoted not to the Americansuper-rich, but to non-Americans who never intheir lives had any intention of evading taxes.
Hans Rüdisühli and Muhammad Abdullah:liable to inheritance tax?
To get some idea of how the inheritance tax of aforeign state can become a serious problem forthird parties, we need to start with a fundamentaldifference between continental and Anglo-Saxoninheritance law. On the continent, the view pre-vails that the logical recipients of assets left by thedeceased are their descendants. Accordingly,continental inheritance law provides for forcedheirship, whereby a portion of the estate is legallyrequired to be left to close relatives. Under such asystem, it is not difficult to see where any taxationof the inheritance should occur: with these heirs.Things are different under Anglo-Saxon law.There is no forced heirship, so American inheri-tance tax is levied on the “estate”; that is, thephysical goods, such as property, goods and chat-tels,
. If they are US securities, thenthey are liable to tax, regardless of the final domi-cile or main place of residence of the deceased.US securities are basically defined as securitiesissued in the United States, such as the stock of American companies like Apple, General Electricor Pfizer and US funds and US bonds, in particu-lar Treasury bills. American inheritance tax lawmakes specific reference to both US citizens (in-cluding, particularly, US citizens resident abroad)and “non-resident aliens”. These latter are for-eigners with no permanent residence in theUnited States; in other words, all non-Americansin possession of US securities.American inheritance tax rates are variable, withthe top rate at 45 percent. Significant exemptions,of over 1 million US dollars, are allowed for UScitizens; the limit for non-Americans is 60,000 USdollars, unless there is a double taxation agree-ment setting a higher limit. For Switzerland, thelimit is calculated on the basis of the double taxa-tion agreement of 1951, based on the proportionof the entire estate represented by the assets inthe United States. To claim the allowance, the“estate” – that is, in continental terms, the heirs –must disclose the entire, global legacy to the IRS.On account of the IBM shares that he was soattached to, the children of the late Hans Rüdi-sühli of Melchnau must file with the IRS andpresent a valuation of all other family assets.There is a remarkable lack of double taxationagreements with the countries of Latin America,Asia and the Middle East. Mr Abdullah of Dubai,let’s say, a typical owner of treasuries, industrialbonds and GM shares, is liable to American in-heritance tax on his decease. Not his problem, butit may well become one for his 12 sons, Omar,Yakub and all.Or maybe not? For he had placed his securities inan institutional structure, a trust or a companydomiciled on one of the Caribbean islands – andinstitutions cannot die, can they? Indeed not.However, the Americans are increasingly goingover to regarding such structures as look-throughentities, and trying to get access to the bene-ficiaries and their tax liabilities.Another common objection: it’s impossible any-way. How on earth can the IRS make the connec-tion between a US security and a deceased for-eigner? The USA is not even capable of register-ing its own residents, so how should it be able tocontrol the rest of the world? Simple answer: it