The recent US Department of Justice decision to dismiss a criminal prosecution for fostering tax evasion against UBS highlights two perennial themes affecting offshore law firms: transparency and disclosure.
UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, was accused of helping thousands of wealthy clients set up sham offshore companies – hiding $20bn (£12.7bn) in Panama, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – and has paid a $780m (£494m) penalty. “This is the end of bank secrecy in Switzerland,” says Robert Fink, of New York tax specialist Kostelanetz & Fink. “It is the most significant tax case, as far as revenues are concerned, in US history.”
According to Appleby managing partner Shaun Morris, it’s an isolated example: “Disclosure has changed irrevocably. Any country still behind in terms of their regulatory regime will be forced to change, or they will be forced out of business. During the crisis, offshore financial centres (OFCs) were seen as causing the problem. Everybody who understands economics and the financial markets knows that’s untrue.”