UK territories sign on to tax-avoidance crackdown

LONDON (AP) — U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron struck a deal Saturday with leaders of Britain’s overseas territories to share tax information — a move he heralded as a “positive step forward” on an issue at the forefront of next week’s G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister met Saturday at Downing Street with representatives from Britain’s network of overseas territories and dependencies, and he said that all agreed to sign up to a multilateral convention to exchange information automatically between tax authorities.

“I commend their leadership and I look to other international partners to work with their own territories to reach similar agreements,” he said, adding that the deal is a “very positive step forward” that will strengthen Britain’s voice in the G-8 and its campaign on the issue around the world.

“At the G-8 I’m going to push for international agreements to fight the scourge of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance,” Cameron said. “That means automatic exchange of information between our tax authorities – so those who want to evade taxes have nowhere to hide.”

It also means getting companies to report to tax authorities where they earn their profits and where they pay their tax, plus transparency about who owns which companies and who benefits, he added — all moves Britain’s territories and dependencies supported by signing onto the tax initiative Saturday.

Cameron said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that in order to set an example to fellow G-8 leaders, he will introduce a new central register in Britain requiring the owners of “shadowy shell” companies be declared to tax authorities.

“Personally, I would hope the whole world will move towards public registers of beneficial ownership, but I want to maximize the leverage that the U.K. has got over others in terms of each step in turn,” he added later.

Britain has a number of offshore territories, which include the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Channel Islands.

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