SCOTLAND is being marketed as a “tax haven” more widely than ever before.
Controversial Scottish limited partnerships (SLPs) have long been sold off-the-peg as “zero-tax offshore companies” in the former Soviet Union.
But now a whole new raft of adverts have appeared in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian by agencies offering a kind of firm whose owners can pay no tax, remain anonymous and file no accounts. The heavy online promotion of such Scottish off-the-shelf companies suggests agencies feel there is a market for SLPs in southern Europe and Latin America.
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UK Security Minister Ben Wallace last month told MPs that “intelligence assessments from law enforcement” on the abuse of SLPs were “very concerning”.
The Herald has named scores of SLPs involved in criminal or unethical behaviour over the last two years, including the alleged $1billion looting of banks in Moldova and Ukraine’s arms export mafia. The SNP and other parties have called for moves to plug a loophole that allows SLPs to be used as de-facto offshore entities, concealing their ultimate owners, who hide behind other shell companies in traditional tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions such as Belize.
The UK Government has signalled that at the very least it will consider bringing SLPs into a regime that, in theory, forces most other companies to declare who their ultimate beneficial owners are.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie was one of the first politicians to spot exploitation of SLPs when the Moldovan scandal broke last year.
She said: “This latest development shows exactly why we need to close the loophole. We want to attract business to Scotland because we have a skilled workforce and a strong economy, not because we can be a tax haven for unscrupulous businesses.
“It’s essential that the UK and Scottish governments work together to stop this practice as soon as possible.”
The adverts in the new languages are explicit about SLPs, their secrecy and zero-taxes. The Herald has selected a few of them at random.
Slogold, an agency that operates in central America, said in its Spanish-language promotion that a “Scottish LP is a profitable and an ideal instrument to do business with in the whole world, without presenting annual reports and with zero taxes”. The agency added that SLPs were ideal for online businesses because it provided an EU registration without reporting requirements.
An agency called Sin Impuestos – or Tax Free – advertises SLPs alongside what it calls a PriviPack, a combination of Seychelles company, nominee directors for the Seychelles company and a bank account in Belize.
Another agency, International Overseas Services, with offices, it says, in London, Moscow, Riga and Zurich, is promoting SLPs in English. It says it will keep the names of its clients “confidential” and adds: “A Scottish LP is an ideal solution for those who prefer to operate a company incorporated in the EU and to have a totally tax-free facility at the same time.”
Oxfam Scotland has previously warned about SLPs being used in some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.
A spokeswoman said: “SLPs are insufficiently transparent and this could be helping those who want to dodge tax. Oxfam cares about tax dodging wherever it happensbecause we know it is the poorest people who lose out most.
“The misuse of SLPs risks tarnishing Scotland and the UK’s reputation at a time when our leadership on the issue of tax transparency is urgently needed.”