Saturday, December 20, 2008

The beauty of property bubbles

Anxious investors descend on far away locations ready to pay money to anybody for a piece of paradise ... and then flip it. Dubai? Panama? No, Miami 1925...

The more things change the more they stay the same...


Booms and busts

The beauty of bubbles

Dec 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Property bubbles have painful consequences. They also have useful ones




THE fireworks could be seen from space (allegedly), putting China’s Olympic displays to shame. Hollywood celebrities studded a guest-list of 2,500 people. Kylie Minogue, a diminutive Australian singer, cavorted in a gold and black corset designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Guests consumed an estimated 1.7 tonnes of lobster.

The launch party for the Atlantis hotel in Dubai on November 20th was a perfect, noisy finale to the world’s latest age of excess. But its loudest echoes—the man-made islands, the iconic hotels, the overheated property market, the celebrities and the sun—are from another, more distant time: south Florida in the 1920s.

The summer of 1925 was mania time in Miami. Speculators descended on the city, hungry to buy land in the hottest property market in America. Salesmen swarmed to meet them. “Bird dogs” (youngsters looking to make their way in the industry) scanned the new arrivals at Miami’s train station and steered the most promising prospects to their bosses’ offices.

The heart of the boom was Flagler Street, clogged with traffic and tourists. Would-be buyers were put in the hands of “binder boys”, named for the binders in which sales were recorded. Transactions were swift and shoddy. Buyers had to put down only 10% of the purchase price for the lot they were buying to close a deal; further instalments were payable when the sale was legally recorded. Many new owners had no intention of waiting that long. In another echo of modern-day Dubai, they wanted simply to flip their property, which often had yet to be dredged from the ocean, on to the next man. Some bits of land were sold and resold several times during a single day.

Among the principal beneficiaries of Florida’s extraordinary land boom was Carl Graham Fisher, a serial entrepreneur who can take much of the credit for turning Miami Beach from a swampy strip of mangrove trees into the most talked-about resort in the country. As prices soared, so did Fisher’s fortune, at least on paper.

But he saw trouble ahead. Along with a handful of others, he had spent many years turning his vision of Miami Beach into reality. The quick buck was not his goal. As sales grew more and more frenzied, he tried to dampen things down. In a letter to the publisher of the Miami Daily News, whose pages were fattened with property advertisements, he gave warning that many of the development schemes were misleading and that prices had become wildly inflated: “Some of the property being sold in Florida will not bring as much money in 30 years as it is selling for now.” Fisher did more than write letters. He instructed his own salesmen to raise the required down payment on land from 10% to 25%, and to entertain bids only from buyers who planned to develop the lots on offer.

Fisher’s foreboding was soon proved justified. Savvier investors began to pull back from their interests in Florida. In the winter of 1925-26 the number of visitors dropped. So did the level of property transactions. A capsized ship blocked entry to Miami harbour in early 1926, slowing the pace of construction work. Banks that had lent money to property developers wobbled. As concern grew that the skin of Florida’s bubble was tearing, nature provided a drawing-pin of its own. On September 18th 1926 a hurricane hit south Florida, ripping through the hotels, piers, marinas and mansions that had been put up in the preceding years.

The storm killed 400 people and made another 50,000 homeless. It also marked a decisive downward shift in south Florida’s economic fortunes. “Castles in the Sand”, a biography of Fisher by Mark Foster, records that bank deposits in the region fell by 75% between 1925 and 1929, bankruptcies jumped by 600% and the value of building permits slumped from $101m to less than $13m. And all this was before the Depression piled on further misery.

Fisher himself did not escape the damage. His worries about Florida had not stopped him embarking on another grand project, to develop a dazzling resort much farther up America’s east coast at Montauk Point on the tip of Long Island. But his ability to finance the Montauk scheme largely depended on the money flowing in from Florida, money that dried up as the bubble deflated. With no cash in the bank and big bills to pay, Fisher was forced gradually to dismantle his Florida empire, selling and bartering land in a desperate bid to balance the books.

The Montauk project went bust in 1932. By 1933 most of his remaining employees in Florida were being paid in property deeds rather than cash. Fisher declared bankruptcy in 1935 and died four years later, still in Miami, bloated from cirrhosis of the liver but a shrunk figure in every other way. His former wife, Jane, described his final years in Miami Beach: “Through its streets Carl moved slowly, hardly known by the new crowd whose cars flashed through the streets he had built.”

What is left behind

The story of Florida’s land boom is a classic example of a bubble and its dangers. The costs are clear: growing speculation as the bubble inflates, driving prices and value further and further apart; the sharks and the fraudsters, peddling fantasies to misguided investors; the gathering doubts about sustainability; and then the calamitous bursting of confidence, causing debts, defaults and despair.
Full text in http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12792903&CFID=36646690&CFTOKEN=41419828


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Las Uvas: Fever in the coast


The following is draft a translation in Tropiland of an article appearing in La Estrella.



La Estrella, December 15, 2008

12-15-2008 RICHARD M. KOSTER
mailto:periodistas@laestrella.com.pa

On the beach of Coclé, where the Anton river comes meets the ocean, the waters of the river mouth have created a long lagoon and a peninsula that throws itself on the west ,parallel to the coast. They call it Las Uvas. It is possible to access it ,during low tide, via the beach from Juan Hombrón, but otherwise, it is not accessible by land.
Since it has neither drinking water nor irrigation and agricultural potential, it had no value until the fever of the tourist development came to the area of Farallón. In the summer of 2007, a person called Sonia Álvarez offered to buy possessory rights in Las Uvas for $ 3.00 per square meter. Immediately, she found local fishermen caliming that they had Rights Of Possession over the land.
In June, 2007 Álvarez, Roberto Homsany , Alberto Sudarsky and Henry Lebowitz, requested to buy 31.6 hectares of the peninsula to the State making a formal, written request (as per protocol) at the Department of Economy and Finance . Their request mentioned as motive “a project of " country-style villa ecotourism project” and it was accompanied by 32 “contracts of sale of the Rights of Possession of the resident inhabitants of the area” and “an agreement signed by the holders of these property Rights of Possession, who have been inhabiting them for 39 years”.
When La Estrella visited the peninsula, on November 13, it was desert. Seagulls were patrolling the smooth sea. The only human element was a rancho of four posts with tin roof bent from the breeze. To imagine 32 supposed inhabitants needed a poet's imagination.
Having road access to the property is a requisite so that Cadaster grants title by means of Rights of Possession. Be that as it may, the purchase request included a letter of the mayor of Anton, Roger Ríos, who was requesting from Hacienda Santa Mónica “a road servitude (right of pass) to lead to the peninsula of Las Uvas”.
Hacienda Santa Mónica is one of the most beautiful properties of Central America - approximately 3,000 hectares that spread from the Inter-American highway down to the ocean. It was created by combining land from five farms by president Harmodio Arias Madrid. In it he developed rice and bred cattle . He then turned it over to his son Gilberto Arias Guardia, and then to his grandchildren. They sold it to the second mother's second husband , Wilson Lucom. Lucom paid the mortgages and set the farm to produce, but in 2005 he sold it so that it was the site of the first “Branded City” of Latin America.
"Branded Cities" are communities designed to serve simultaneously as esidential, commercial and recreational. The most out-standing example is Palm Island of the United Arab Emirates. The project, which will be called Grand Panama and which will cost $3 billion, will feature a five -star hotel, a marina, four golf courses, 9,700 residences, and a 400,000 square meters of shopping center.
It will generate 10,000 jobs during the phase of construction and 5,000 permanent jobs. It will give incalculable profits to the region and the country.

Lucom accepted a first payment of half a million dollars, but he died in June, 2006 before finishing the buying and selling. In his testament he left an apartment of $ 1 million and a million dollar anuity to his widow, but he directed the buldge of his assets to a foundation dedicated to to feeding children in need in Panama. The widow has urged to annul the testament, and Santa Monica, the principal part of the executrix, has remained tangled in the succession dispute, under the administration of lawyer Marta Cañola, named by the Judge of the Fifth Circuit.
When Grand Panama International paid half a million to buy Santa Monica, they hired Meneren Corporation of Denver USA, to develop and administer the project. Meneren must wait for the conclusion of the judgment of succession to complete the buying and selling with the winner,of the case and has remained alert to the real property swaying in Panama. On May 11 of the present year Meneren inspector, Steve Guthrie, received an e-mail of a broker in Panama offering him area in the beach close to Juan Hombrón. On having investigated, Guthrie discovered that Las Uvas were being marketed even though they and the peninsula were part of the "Branded City" property.
“They were trying to sell to us land that our bosses already were ready to buy!”, he said to La Estrella. “With the down payment of half a million dollars, he lagoon is where we think to put the marina, and without these kilometers of beach the property does not serve for the project”.
Aurelio Andrión, until March of this year regional Cadaster chief in Coclé, confirmed what Guthrie said. “There is no case of "purchasing from the State in that place”, he said to La Estrella. “The peninsula of Las Uvas belongs to finca number 7022, which is part of Hacienda Santa Mónica ”.The Public Register confirms Andrión . It establishes that the south boundary of finca 7022 is “the Pacific Ocean”.
Mayor Ríos said to La Estrella that Sonia Álvarez had asked for the letter in which Hacienda Santa Mónica requested right of way from the Treasury Department. He wrote it to help the fishermen, who are his constituents. He delivered it to Álvarez and not to lawyer Cañola.
According to the said lawyer, the grounds in the peninsula of Las Uvas “are not state but a private property that finca 7022 is part of and Rights of Possession do not exist on private property”.
Sonia Álvarez, Alberto Sudarsky, Roberto Homsany, and Henry Lebowitz have not come on record as of yet. On November 8 there was a meeting of the fishermen who had sold their "Rights of Possession to Sonia Álvarez. They were angry. They were selling in $ 3.00 per square meter, but they received only 8 %. The rest would come when the investors were receive title of the area which, from the looks of it, is far,far away.







Feb. 17, 2009: The Spanish online version of La Prensa has been truncated (censored?) with a disclaimer "Look for the full version in page 2A of our printed version." Thanks to Google cache, we are able to share the full version with our Spanish-reading users.

LAS UVAS DE COCLÉ
Fiebre en la costa
12-15-2008 RICHARD M. KOSTER
periodistas@ laestrella.com.pa
El desarrollo turístico ataca al país desde múltiples frentes y en toda guerra la primera baja es la verdad
Portada PANAMÁ. En la costa de Coclé, donde el río Antón llega al mar, las aguas de la desembocadura han creado una laguna larga y una península que se tira al oeste paralela a la costa. La llaman Las Uvas. A marea baja se puede llegar allí por la playa desde Juan Hombrón, pero de otra manera no es accesible por tierra.
Como no tiene ni agua potable ni fertilidad, no tuvo valor hasta que la fiebre del desarrollo turístico llegara a Farallón. En el verano del 2007, una persona llamada Sonia Álvarez ofreció comprar derechos posesorios en Las Uvas a $3.00 el metro cuadrado. De una vez encontró pescadores dispuestos a sostener que los tenían.
En junio de 2007 Álvarez, Alberto Sudarsky, Roberto Homsany, y Henry Lebowitz, solicitaron al Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas comprar los 31.6 hectáreas de la península a la Nación. Su solicitud mencionó como motivo “un proyecto de villas campestres ecoturísticas” y fue acompañada por 32 “contratos de compraventa de los derechos posesorios de los moradores residentes del área” y “un acuerdo firmado por los poseedores de estas tierras, los cuales las habitan desde hace 39 años”.
Cuando La Estrella visitó la península, al mediodía del 13 de noviembre, era desierta. Patos cuervos patrullaban un mar liso. El único rastro humano era un rancho de cuatro postes con techo de zinc agachado debajo de la llovizna. Imaginar a los 32 supuestos moradores nos hubiera requerido grandes dotes de poeta.
Acceso vial es un requisito para que Catastro otorgue título a base de derechos posesorios. Así es que la solicitud incluía una carta del alcalde de Antón, Roger Ríos, quien solicitaba a Hacienda Santa Mónica “servidumbre vial para dar acceso a la península”.
Hacienda Santa Mónica es una de las propiedades más bellas de Centroamérica —unas 3,000 hectáreas que se extienden de la carretera Interamericana hasta el mar. Fue creada de cinco fincas por el presidente Harmodio Arias Madrid. Allí sembró arroz y crió ganado. Esta la pasó a su hijo Gilberto Arias Guardia, y luego a los hijos de él. Ellos la vendieron al segundo marido de su madre, Wilson Lucom. Lucom pagó las hipotecas y puso la finca a producir, pero en 2005 trató de venderla para que fuera el sitio de la primera “ciudad marca” de América Latina.
Las ciudades marca son comunidades diseñadas a la vez residenciales, comerciales y recreativas. El ejemplo más destacado es Isla Palma los Emiratos Unidos Árabes.
El proyecto, que se llamará Gran Panamá y que valdrá 3 mil millones, contempla un hotel de cinco estrellas, una marina, cuatro canchas de golf, 9,700 residencias, y un centro comercial de 400,000 metros cuadrados.
Generará 10,000 empleos durante la fase de construcción y 5,000 empleos permanentes. Dará beneficios incalculables a la región y el país.
Lucom aceptó un pago inicial de medio millón de dólares, pero murió en junio de 2006 antes de finalizar la compraventa. En su testamento dejó un apartamento de $1 millón y un cuarto de un millón anual a su viuda, pero destinó el grueso de sus bienes a una fundación cuyo propósito es alimentar niños con necesidades en Panamá. La viuda ha instado anular el testamento, y Santa Mónica, la principal parte de la testamentaria, ha quedado enmarañada en la disputa de sucesión, baja administración de la licenciada Marta Cañola, nombrada por el Juez Quinto del Circuito.
Cuando Gran Panamá Internacional abonó medio millón para comprar Santa Mónica, contrató a la Meneren Corporation de Denver, EEUU, para desarrollar y administrar el proyecto. Meneren debe esperar la conclusión del juicio de sucesión para completar la compraventa con el vencedor, y ha quedado alerta a los vaivenes de bienes raíces en Panamá. El 11 de mayo del presente año su director administrativo, Steve Guthrie, recibió un e-mail de un corredor en Panamá ofreciéndole terreno en la playa cerca de Juan Hombrón. Al investigar, Guthrie descubrió que se trataba de la península Las Uvas, que él conoció como parte de la Hacienda Santa Mónica.
“¡Pretendían vendernos terreno que nuestros principales ya contrataron comprar!”, dijo a La Estrella. “Con abono de medio millón de dólares. La laguna es donde pensamos poner la marina, y sin estos kilómetros de playa la propiedad no sirve para el proyecto”.
Aurelio Andrión, hasta marzo de este año jefe regional de Catastro en Coclé, confirmó lo que dijo Guthrie. “No hay compra a la Nación en aquel lugar”, dijo a La Estrella. “La península de Las Uvas pertenece a la finca 7022, que forma parte de la Hacienda Santa Mónica”.
El Registro Público confirma el criterio de Andrión. Establece que el lindero sur de la finca 7022 es “con el Océano Pacífico”.
El alcalde Ríos dijo a La Estrella que Sonia Álvarez había pedido la carta en que solicitó servidumbre a Hacienda Santa Mónica. La escribió para ayudar a los pescadores, quienes son sus constituyentes. La entregó a Álvarez y no a la licenciada Cañola.
Según la licenciada, las tierras en la península de Las Uvas “no son estatales sino propiedad privada que forman parte de la finca 7022, y no existen derechos posesorios sobre propiedad privada”.
Sonia Álvarez y Roberto Homsany no han devuelto llamadas de La Estrella. No hemos podido localizar ni a Alberto Sudarsky ni a Henry Lebowitz. El 8 de noviembre se celebró una reunión de los pescadores quienes habían vendido sus derechos posesorios a Sonia Álvarez. Estaban enojados. Vendían en $3.00 el metro cuadrado, pero cobraron solo 8%. El resto vendría cuando los inversores recibían título del terreno. Se estima una larga espera.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

CRONOLOGÍA
En el verano del 2007, una persona llamada Sonia Álvarez ofreció comprar derechos posesorios en Las Uvas a $3.00 el metro cuadrado.
En junio de 2007 Álvarez, Alberto Sudarsky, Roberto Homsany y Henry Lebowitz, pidieron al Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas comprar los 31.6 hectáreas de la península al Estado.
La Hacienda Santa Mónica es una de las propiedades más bellas de Centroamérica, 3,000 hectáreas desde la Interamericana al mar.
El 8 de noviembre hubo una reunión de los pescadores que vendieron sus derechos posesorios a Sonia Álvarez.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Panama is popular choice of Canadian Offshore Investments



Canadian Offshore Investments Have Risen Ten-Fold Since 1980s
By by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington
10 June 2003

It was revealed this week that a presentation given by Canadian federal tax officials to the Minister of National Revenue Elinor Caplan some months ago showed that Canadian citizens are investing ten times more money in low tax jurisdictions than they were in the late 1980's.

The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's presentation, entitled 'Tax Havens, An Evolving Taxation Issue' and shown to government ministers last November, claimed that the total amount invested offshore stood at $44.6 billion in 2001, against a figure of $4.5 billion in 1988, according to the Globe and Mail.

Whilst a spokeswoman for the revenue agency was prepared to accept that the majority of Canadian taxpayers are investing offshore for entirely innocent purposes, tax officials are worried that it is difficult to police such a large volume of such transactions, and fear that not all income from overseas investments is being reported to the domestic tax authorities.

"Whenever there is any kind of tax that's not being paid, it's a serious issue. It's not the offshore transaction itself that's the matter. It's the fact that you are taxable on your worldwide income," spokeswoman Colette Gentes-Hawn told the Globe and Mail, adding: "So you may have all kinds of wonderful reasons to put your money offshore even if it's only to hide it from a spouse or a creditor or whatever, and that's fine as long as you report the income from that money."

Of particular concern to the CCRA is the growth of internet banking, a method that it says many Canadians have chosen to use to transfer funds offshore in recent years. The consequent lack of a clear audit trail in internet transactions is making it harder for tax officials to discover whether the appropriate laws have been complied with.

Also, concern is growing over the rise of consultancy firms that market and promote investment schemes in low tax jurisdictions, a phenonemon that the revenue agency says is also making its life more difficult.

It was highlighted at the presentation that a disproportionately high number of Canadians are investing in certain offshore centers, compared to investments held in the United States, Canada's nearest and largest trading partner.

However, to Walter Robinson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, this comes as no great surprise. "People say, 'Why would I pay an extra $10,000 when the government is going to [waste it] and not fund health care or build highways or give me better schools?'" he explained.

According to the revenue agency's figures, one of the largest beneficiaries of Canadian money was Barbados, which has seen a rise from $628 million in 1988 to $23.3 billion in 2001. Other popular choices were the Cayman Islands ($234 million in 1988 and $5.5 billion in 2001) and Panama ($14 million in 1988 against $230 million in 2001).

.


Making your Panama investment safer

Just like in any country with a financial center, there are 2 ways to invest in securities:
- Buy bonds or shares from publicly-held companies which provide quarterly reports and are regulated by a Government securities administration, sometimes traded in a stock exchange after disclosing the names of their principals, or
- Sending money to a company with unknown promoters after receiving an email (or a "tip" from a "friend") promising double- or triple-digit returns on investment.


The largest Panama corporations trade their shares in the Panama Stock Exchange - Bolsa de Valores de Panama (http://www.panabolsa.com/ - which has Spanish versions of their prospecti). Dividends and return from securities listed in the BVP are free of Panama tax. The operations of the companies listed can be seen all over the city: Banco General - Empresa General de Inversiones (BVP: EGI), Melo (BVP: EMEL), UNESA - Panama owners of TGIF and other franchises (BVP: UNEM) or the companies which shares are owned by the Panama Fixed Income Fund (BVP: INPFIF). A registered Panama stockbroker must be retained to buy these investments.

Other regulated investments are not listed with the Stock Exchange but are registered with the National Securities Commission (http://www.conaval.gob.pa/). As the Commission has become more stringent, the number of unlisted shares in the current list of registered issuers has been reduced.
Banks and trustees are licensed by the Superintendent of Banks, which has a list of :
- Authorized banks
- Authorized trustees
The Commission has also taken a role in keeping tabs of Panama corporations which have unregistered shares and have been known to take advantage of grey areas of securities law in order to take risks from unsavvy investors. Complaints for securities scams are investigated by the Commission http://www.conaval.gob.pa/principal.asp?id=pre&sb=den

Many of those businesses are scams which conceal their activities under the name "forex", "trading accounts" and high yield investment accounts.
Usually they are in the same locations, such as a maildrop in "Plaza Neptuno Oficina 7 Avenida Ricardo J Alfaro, Tumba Muerto Panama city" (left) or fancy locations in the World Trade Center.


Before wiring money for one of these "investments", due diligence is important. Check that the company is listed with one government entity (beyond the usual Public Registry incorporation and Ministry of Commerce Business License). Seek references from locals about who runs the business and ask a local person to check out the physical address of the company.


National Securities Commission Warnings about Unlicensed Investments
# GENEVA ASSET MANAGEMENT S.A.
# SCOTT FITZGERALD GROUP
# PROSASK TRADERS CORP
# PDR EXCHANGE (PANAMA), INC. y FUNDACION PAN AMERICA
# Sens CFD Trading, S.A.
# Brics International Capital Inc.
# SECURE ONE INVESTMENT GROUP SECURE ONE HOLDINGS PANAMÁ, INC.
# Global Finance Corporations, S.A.
# Alliance Asset Management
# Guardian & Associates, Inc.
# First Global Ventures, S.A.
# HARLEEM UNIVERSAL CORPORATION
# BRITEX INTERNATIONAL LIMITED
# TIME PUBLISHING
http://www.conaval.gob.pa/principal.asp?id=inv&sb=ale&div=0




Superintendent of Banks Warnings about Unlicensed Banking Activities
http://www.superbancos.gob.pa/advertencia/list.asp
http://www.superbancos.gob.pa/advertencia/communique.asp

Indice Diario

See more information on the BVP

Monday, December 08, 2008

US and Liechtenstein to exchange tax information on clients

Panama and Liechtenstein were some of the few remaining international financial centers that had not signed tax information exchange agreements with the U.S.



Press Room

December 8, 2008
HP-1320

U.S., Liechtenstein Sign Tax Information Exchange Agreement

Washington – The Department of the Treasury today announced that the United States and Liechtenstein have signed an agreement to allow for exchange of information on tax matters between the two countries. The agreement was signed by U.S. Charge d'Affairs Leigh Carter and Liechtenstein Prime Minister Otmar Hasler in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

The Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with Liechtenstein will provide the United States with access to information it needs to enforce U.S. tax laws, including information related to bank accounts in Liechtenstein.

The TIEA will permit the United States to seek information from Liechtenstein on all types of federal taxes, and in both civil and criminal matters. Under the TIEA, the requested information must be obtained and exchanged without regard to whether the country receiving the request needs the information for its own tax purposes or whether the conduct being investigated would constitute a crime under its law. If the country receiving the request for information does not have the requested information in its possession, it must take relevant information gathering measures to provide the requested information. Moreover, requests from one country to the other must be honored, even if the information relates to, or is held by, nonresidents.

Full text of press release in http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/hp1320.htm



AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE PRINCIPALITY OF LIECHTENSTEIN ON TAX COOPERATION AND THE EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION RELATING TO TAXES

Article 1
Scope of the Agreement
The parties shall provide assistance through exchange of information that is foreseeably relevant to the administration and enforcement of the domestic laws of the parties concerning the taxes covered by this Agreement, including information concerning the determination, assessment, enforcement or collection of tax with respect to persons subject to such taxes, or the investigation or prosecution of criminal tax matters.
...
1. With respect to Article 4 of the Agreement (Definitions), the term “person” also includes foundations (“Stiftungen”) and “Anstalten.”

Full text of agreement in http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/reports/us%20liechtenstein%20tiea.pdf



Liechtenstein Police, via European Pressphoto Agency
Heinrich Kieber provided information on bank clients
.

Liechtenstein to Share Some Secrets of Its Bank

Published: December 4, 2008

Liechtenstein, under increasing scrutiny for its role as a leading offshore tax haven, has promised to partly lift the veil of secrecy shrouding billions of dollars held there by wealthy American clients and corporations.

Liechtenstein, a tiny Alpine country, will now in limited circumstances turn over to United States investigators the bank records of American clients suspected of tax evasion. The agreement also covers questionable uses of a tactic, known as transfer pricing, that is widely employed by multinational American corporations to lower their tax bills.

But there is a catch: the agreement covers only clients who are already being investigated or prosecuted for tax evasion in the United States. That hurdle makes it unlikely that Liechtenstein will open the flood gates to foreign tax authorities, who are laboring to uncover the identities of suspected tax cheats. Unlike Liechtenstein and neighboring Switzerland, which make a distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud, the United States considers them to be the same thing, and both to be crimes. Only tax fraud is a criminal offense in Liechtenstein and Switzerland...

Full text in http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/business/worldbusiness/05bank.html


ABBA singers have mixed results offshore


ABBA's Bjorn wins $17m tax case

October 15, 2008 - 11:35AM
Former ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus has won an appeal against Swedish tax authorities.

Ulvaeus has for several years battled with the tax authorities over how much tax he should pay on royalty income, mainly from ABBA recordings.

The county administrative court ruled against the tax authorities that had wanted the successful composer and former ABBA member to pay an additional 85 million kronor ($17.25 million) for the period 1999-2005.

"I am of course very happy that I have been informed in writing that I have always done the right thing concerning my taxes," Ulvaeus was quoted as telling the online edition of the economics magazine Privata Affarer.

The rights to ABBA's sugary sweet yet undeniably catchy tunes, such as "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia" and "Waterloo," have been controlled by the Dutch company Fintage since 1990. Fintage then made an arrangement with a company called Stanova, which operates in the Netherlands Antilles, a Caribbean island group.

According to Dagens Nyheter, Stanova also happens to be indirectly owned by Ulvaeus, who, along with Andersson, produced ABBA's biggest hits and created the musicals Chess and Mamma Mia! The group has sold more than 370 million albums worldwide, despite not having performed together since 1982.

Tax Authority spokesman Victor Palm said that Ulvaeus has been "paying less tax than he should," and that the agency suspects that royalty payments for the singer-songwriter have been directed to Stanova so that Ulvaeus could catch a break, a tax structure the Authority does not approve of.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/entertainment/music/abba-star-bjorn-wins-17m-tax-case/2008/10/15/1223750070878.html

ABBA star wins tax case
Tax bingo för Björn Ulvaeus - Translation
Icethesite Bjorn Ulvaeus blog
More tax woes for ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus




Frida will have to pay millions in taxes!

The former star of ABBA Anni-Frid Reuss - Lyngstad - apect"Frida" - has to pay 12 million Swedish kronor in taxes and interest on revenue of music that were transferred to her company in the tax haven of Panama. This was decided by the Administrative Court of Appeal in Stockholm.

While Björn Ulvaeus earlier this week won a lengthy lawsuit against the National Tax Director, and will get back 85 million Swedish kronor second decision of the Court's Administrative Council, is going in the opposite direction of the former companion of band Anni-Frid Reuss - Lyngstad.

The company registered in Panama as Chaperon, for which she is the sole owner, received royalty revenues from Polar Music and Universal Music of the rights on ABBA products. The money was deposited in a bank account in Switzerland, where Anni-Frid Reuss - Lyngstad resides.

This was discovered by the National Tax Directorate few years ago, when an inspection was done on tax returns of Chaperon, income for the period 2000-2002 as part of an investigation relating to payments of royalties from Sweden.

Anni-Frid Reuss - Lyngstad is not required to pay tax in Sweden as she is not a resident there, but Chaperon is - which was also recognized when it submitted its income tax returns.

However, the company claimed large reductions in spending - because of the acquisition of rights - which meant that it appeared the company was taking losses.

The National Tax Directorate did not accept the deductions by Chaperon and imposed a fine of additional 38 million Swedish crowns its revenue during the period 2000-2002. This meant that Anni-Frid Reuss - Lyngstad is required to pay taxes and interest of approximately 12 million Swedish crowns.

The former member of ABBA appealed the decision before the Court, but the appeal was rejected. Now the verdict was settled by the Administrative Court of Appeal in Stockholm.

Millionaire tax loss for Abba's Frida - Translation




.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Re : Questions on citizenship vs pensionado visa


Objet: Questions on citizenship vrs pensinado visa
Date: Jeudi 31 Juillet 2008, 13h11

Sir, I have a question that I hope you can assist me with.I am a 53 year old US citizen (born in NY City) and I am considering moving to Panama in the next 1-3 years. My father (now deceased) and his father were both born in Panama. My uncle (also born in Panama and a former member of the national guard) has offered to assist me in obtaining dual citizenship if I want it. I am aware of the pensinado visa and some of its benefits(tax exemptions, no taxes on out of Panama income, and discounts). I am curious if there would be any advantages/disadvantages of pursuing dual citizenship instead of a retirement visa... Primarily
Would my income from the US remain tax free if I had dual citizenship?
Can I own a business in Panama in either situation?
Are their benefits for retired Panamanian citizens(discounts etc)?
Could my wife get dual citizenship if I did.


http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Panama_laws_for_expats/files/Dual%20citizenship/ has a discussion on benefits of dual citizenship.

As a child of a Panama citizen you qualify for Panama citizenship, but if you were born abroad, you must first submit authenticated birth certificates and other documents.

You can own a retail business as any Panamanian but also can claim pensionado duty free status as a returning Panamanian.

A foreign wife cannot claim Panama citizenship immediately.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Panama Economy Stays Strong - Bucking World Trends

Panama Economy Stays Strong - Bucking World Trends


Date: 2008-09-18

Panama's economy will continue to grow, say analysts, resisting the global downturn led by US economic woes.

"The strong economic performance of the last few years continues, despite the deteriorating global environment," said International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials last week in a public statement.

"Panama was one of the fastest growing economies in the world in 2007 with real growth rising to 11.2 percent, following an average growth rate of nearly 8 percent in 2004-06 ... Growth in 2008-09 is projected to slow somewhat, to about 8 percent, with the Canal expansion and related investment activities partially offsetting the effects of higher oil prices and the slowdown in the U.S. and the global economy."

The IMF has also upped predictions for Panama's economic growth to 8.3 per cent for this year, up from a more modest estimate of 7.7 per cent in April's World Economic Outlook report.

"Despite a deteriorating external environment, economic prospects are favorable," concluded IMF board directors, "thanks to the Canal expansion project and associated investment, as well as improvements in competitiveness reflected in expanding export services such as tourism, communications, and transportation."

IMF directors commented that Panama's financial sector has not been negatively affected by the global financial turmoil, noting the 'remarkable turnaround' in the non-financial public sector as well; these factors, combined with the strong economic growth, contributed to Panama's improved credit rating from Standard and Poors earlier this year, earning the country a BB+ (stable).

Analysts at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a global auditor, also estimate an increase of 8.5 to 9 per cent growth for Panama in 2008, in their Economic Perspectives 2008 report, "marking the sixth consecutive year of strong growth".

According to the latest report by Indesa, a Panamanian advisory and financial services firm, the economy is expected to grow 8.4 per cent in 2008 and nearly 10 per cent in 2009, putting Panama at the forefront of economic growth in Latin America , along with Uruguay and Peru, which posted first quarter growth results of 11 and 9.2 per cent respectively.

Panama's 2007 gross domestic product (GDP) topped $19.7 billion in 2007, and is projected to surpass $24 billion this year.

The driving sectors in Panama are construction, mining, financial services, transport and telecomnunications, and hospitality. Last year, both construction and mining grew by 19.6 per cent apiece according to Indesa, offsetting smaller gains in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

In fact, it is Panama's service-based economy that has allowed it to weather rising oil prices, as well as its proximity to the US, where economic uncertainty has travelers opting for nearby leisure destinations. Panama is emerging as a significant business and tourism destination in the region for travelers from both North and South America, with the Tocumen airport acting as a regional hub between the continent's major cities.

In a report issued by the Panamanian government, authorities estimate the tertiary or service sector accounted for nearly three-quarters of the country's GDP in 2006.

"In the past three years (2004, 2005, and 2006), the tertiary sector has developed significantly, with growth rates of 6.8 per cent, 9.4 per cent, and 9.3 per cent," indicated the Panama Trade Policy Review to the World Trade Organization. "Mention should be made of the Colon Free Zone and of the hotel and restaurant subsector, which grew by more than 10 per cent. Other components of the sector also trended upwards significantly, such as financial intermediation, wholesale and retail commerce, and real estate.

"The high percentage of GDP that this sector represents and has represented in the past, shows that Panama is a service-oriented economy. In 2006 the sector accounted for 74 per cent of GDP."

The external sector has also been a strong economic driver, with the export of goods averaging five per cent annual growth between 1997 and 2006, reaching more than $1 billion USD. By 2006, the net export of goods and services represented one third of Panama GDP.

Despite the fact this year's numbers are down from 2007, which saw record growth levels of about 11 per cent, the overall positive trend is in stark contrast to regional predictions. The Economist estimates the mid-term trend for Latin America to average out at 3.9 per cent in 2012, while the IMF predicts a much better performance for Panama.

"The medium-term outlook is promising, supported by the canal expansion and other large construction projects," noted the IMF's board of directors last year in a public statement. "For 2007-10, staff projects average annual real GDP growth of about 6.5 per cent, [and] inflation of 2.25 -2.75 per cent."

IMF officials commended Panamanian authorities on governmental spending 'restraint' and improved tax collection in reducing public debt and creating a sound basis for economic growth. Declining unemployment, plummeting from 13.6 per cent in 2003 to 7.3 in 2007, was also cited, as was the positive impact of the Panama Canal expansion, expected to be completed in 2013 at a cost of some $5.5 billion.

"The project is expected to boost GDP growth and job creation, both directly and by stimulating related industries," noted IMF officials.

The Latin Business Chronicle has also placed Panama at the top of its Latin Business Index, thanks to $1.8 billion in direct foreign investment (DFI) in 2007. Panama beat out Chile, which saw more than $14 billion in DFI in 2007, taking the top spot for the higher proportion of investment to its GDP.

Inflation, which has typically been very low for Panama thanks to a currency pegged to the US dollar, has risen in step with the recent devaluation of the US dollar. While 2007 saw an increase over the previous year, going from 2.5 per cent to 4.2 cent, Panama's inflation remained well below all other Latin American countries, which averaged 7.75 per cent. However, inflation reached nearly nine per cent in May of 2008, which the IMF largely attributes to rising food and fuel costs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How the Dutch do offshore banking

Forget about Panama for stashing away unreported money. From Netherlands Antilles, funds under a Dutch company can find their way back to the US tax-free....





Sunday, Jun. 24, 2001


A Torrent of Dirty Dollars

By JONATHAN BEATY AND RICHARD HORNIK

In Willemstad, the sunny Caribbean capital of the Netherlands Antilles, a banker ushers an American visitor through a hotel casino and into a dining room overlooking the harbor. During refreshments, the prospective customer says he expects a six-figure cash windfall soon and would like to bring the money "quietly" into the U.S. At first the banker responds cautiously. "This money isn't, ah, tainted, is it?" When the American assures him it is not, the officer of the Curacao branch of the French-owned Credit Lyonnais Nederland smiles and orders another tonic water. In that case, says the banker, he can arrange a so-called Dutch sandwich.

Under this multilayered plan, the Paris bank would set up a corporation for the customer in Rotterdam, where he would deposit his cash in the bank's local branch. The American would control the newly created Dutch corporation through an Antilles trust company, but his identity as the owner would be protected by the island group's impenetrable secrecy laws. The Caribbean branch would then "lend" the American his own money held in Rotterdam.

If the American were questioned by the Internal Revenue Service or other authorities about the source of his wealth, he could point to his loan from a respected international bank. "Many of your largest corporations, many of your movie stars, do much the same thing here," says the banker. "We wouldn't want to handle criminal money, of course. But if it's just a matter of taxes, that is of no concern to us."

When U.S. drug agents tallied up the amount of cocaine they seized during fiscal 1989, their haul totaled 89 tons, or 44% more than last year's. The volume, which is believed to be only a small percentage of the tons flooding the country, is evidence of more than just a frighteningly effective drug- smuggling industry. The wholesale value of the coke, as much as $28 billion, is testimony to another kind of dark genius. This is the scandalous ability of the coke kingpins to launder billions of dollars in drug proceeds using many of the same financial services available to the FORTUNE 500. In a wash cycle that often takes less than 48 hours, the drug smugglers can turn coke-tinged $20 and $100 bills into such untraceable, squeaky-clean assets as money-market deposits, car dealerships and resort hotels.

The coke smugglers can accomplish this feat because they have plenty of help. They rely on a booming money-laundering industry that serves a clientele ranging from tax-avoiding corporations to the Iranscam schemers. The system depends on the collaboration, or often just the negligence, of bankers and other moneymen who can use electronic-funds networks and the secrecy laws of tax havens to shuffle assets with alacrity. The very institutions that could do the most to stop money laundering have the least incentive to do so. According to police and launderers, the basic fee for recycling money of dubious origin is 4%, while the rate for drug cash and other hot money is 7% to 10%.

Much is at stake as the powerful flow of narcodollars is recycled through the world's financial system. Drug lords and other lawbreakers are believed to be buying valuable chunks of the American economy, but clever Dutch sandwiches and other subterfuges make it almost impossible for U.S. authorities to track foreign investors. A case in point: blind corporations based in the Netherlands Antilles control more than one-third of all foreign-owned U.S. farmland, many of the newest office towers in downtown Los Angeles and a substantial number of independent movie companies producing films like Sylvester Stallone's Rambo pictures.

While businesses and individuals may conceal their assets for purposes that are completely legal, or dubious at worst, the systems set up for their convenience can be perversely efficient at helping drug barons launder as much as $100 billion a year in U.S. proceeds. "It is hard to understand why we failed for so long to institute adequate controls," says Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations. The state of regulation is "so lackadaisical," says Kerry, "it's almost damnable."

President Bush, for his part, has declared money launderers a critical target in the war on drugs, allocating $15 million to launch a counteroffensive. While the sum is minuscule for the task, the declaration signals a change in philosophy for the Administration, which had resisted calls for tighter banking regulations. Only hours after Bush unveiled his antidrug offensive last September, a federal task force began taking shape. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) hopes to zero in on money launderers with computer programs capable of spotting suspicious movements of electronic money.

In a high-tech game of cat and mouse, the Justice Department said last week that it had found and triggered the freezing of $60.1 million in bank accounts in five countries that contained the personal income of Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, a leader of the Medellin cartel. Using financial records and computer disks captured by the Colombian government, U.S. agents traced Rodriguez money to accounts in the U.S., Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Britain.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials told TIME that one of Rodriguez's purported financial advisers, Panama-based Mauricio Vives, tried desperately to keep moving the money one step ahead of the agents. Vives called a British banker and told him to move several million dollars, fast, to an account in Luxembourg. If the bank were to delay, his Colombian client would kill him, Vives pleaded. The banker refused, and British authorities cooperating with the DEA froze the account. Not all countries were as helpful. U.S. agents said they tracked Rodriguez's money to the Cayman Islands, Spain and Montserrat, but local authorities said they could not cooperate, citing rigid bank-secrecy laws as an excuse.

What makes enforcement so difficult is a financial murkiness that has long frustrated tax collectors as they search for dirty money afloat in the world's oceans of legitimate payments. The multibillion-dollar flow of black money, the profits from criminal enterprise, moves through the world's financial institutions as part of a vastly larger quantity of gray money, as bankers call it. This dubious, laundered cash amounts to an estimated $1 trillion or more each year. Often legitimately earned, this money has an endless variety of sources: an Argentine businessman who dodges currency-control laws to get his savings out of the country; a multinational corporation that seeks to "minimize" its tax burden by dumping its profits in tax-free havens; a South African investor who wants to avoid economic sanctions; an East German Communist leader who stashed a personal nest egg in Swiss bank accounts; or even the CIA and KGB when they need to finance espionage or covert activities overseas.

The world's prosperity depends on a fluid and unfettered financial system, yet the lack of supervision is producing a large shadow economy. The IRS estimates that tax cheats skim as much as $50 billion a year from legitimate cash-generating businesses and launder the money to avoid detection. Banking experts calculate that the private citizens of debt-choked Latin American countries have smuggled more than $200 billion of their savings abroad in the past decade.

The money-laundering process, especially in the drug trade, begins with greenbacks. Much of the cash simply leaves the U.S. in luggage, since departing travelers are rarely searched. Larger shipments are flown out on private planes or packed in seagoing freight containers, which are almost never inspected. That explains, in part, why U.S. officials are unable to locate fully 80% of all the bills printed by the Treasury. Once overseas, the cash is easy to funnel into black markets, especially in unstable economies where the dollar is the favored underground currency.

But hauling cash out of the U.S. has its drawbacks. The interest revenue lost while cash is in transit pains a drug dealer as much as it would a corporate financial officer. And since narcotraffickers see America as a safe and profitable haven for their assets, they often launder and invest their cash in the U.S. The first and trickiest step is depositing the hot cash in a U.S. financial institution. Reason: the IRS requires all banks to file Currency Transaction Reports for deposits of $10,000 or more. During the early 1980s, launderers got around this scrutiny by employing couriers called Smurfs, named for the restless cartoon characters, who would fan out and make multiple deposits of slightly less than $10,000.

The Government now requires banks to keep an eye out for Smurfs, but launderers have developed new techniques. Since retail businesses that collect large amounts of cash are often exempt from the $10,000 rule, launderers have created front companies or collaborated with employees of such outlets as 7 Elevens and Computer-Land stores. To drug dealers, "an exempt rating is like gold," says a Wells Fargo Bank vice president. A restaurant that accepts no checks or credit cards can be an ideal laundering machine. Even a front business with no exemption is valuable because launderers can file the CTRs in the knowledge that they are unlikely to attract scrutiny, since the Government is swamped with 7 million such reports a year, up from fewer than 100,000 a decade ago. Other places where drug dealers can often dump their cash include the currency exchange houses along the Southwest border and urban check- cashing and money-transmittal stores.

Once the money is in a financial institution, it can be moved with blinding speed. Communicating with the bank via fax machine or personal computer, a launderer can have wire transfers sent around the world without ever speaking to a banking officer. The goal of many launderers is to get their money into the maelstrom of global money movements, where the volume is so great that no regulators can really monitor it all. Such traffic has exploded because of the globalization of the world economy, which has multiplied the volume of international trade and currency trading. On an average working day, the Manhattan-based Clearing House for Interbank Payments System handles 145,500 transactions worth more than $700 billion, a 40% increase in just two years.

Much of the electronic money zips into a secret banking industry that got its start in Switzerland in the 1930s as worried Europeans began shifting their savings beyond the reach of Hitler's Third Reich. Later the country's infamous numbered accounts became a hugely profitable business. Chiasso, a quaint Swiss town of 8,700 inhabitants on the Italian border, has 18 banking offices. But during the past few years, Swiss secrecy has been weakened by a series of cases involving money laundering. Switzerland is now preparing a new law that will make money laundering a crime punishable by prison terms. Explains Jean-Paul Chapuis, executive director of the Swiss Bankers Association: "Our hope is that the criminals will go to another country."

They apparently are, since many small countries have successfully attracted banking business by creating discreet, tax-free havens. In Luxembourg total bank deposits have grown from $40 billion in 1984 to more than $100 billion last year. In the wake of a drug-money scandal involving the Florida operations of Luxembourg-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the country has tried to burnish its public image by declaring money laundering a criminal offense, even while it has fortified its bank-secrecy rules.

The most inventive havens allow investors to set up shell corporations with invisible owners, which means that high rollers can secretly stash their money in real estate, corporate stock and other assets. The Netherlands Antilles, with cash flowing steadily from banking centers in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, is a favorite financial center for investors seeking a low profile. Many Hollywood filmmakers love the arrangement, since movie profits can be diverted to a nearly tax-free setting. Many actors, producers and directors set up so- called personal-service companies in the Antilles so they can collect their paychecks through such corporations and avoid U.S. taxes. "It has to be structured very carefully, since the rules are tortuously complicated, but it is legal," says a top entertainment lawyer. However, the IRS may take a closer look after your story comes out."

Just as Hollywood paychecks pour into these havens to avoid taxes, mystery money flows out in search of well-paying investments. "The man I'm working with now," says a prominent screenwriter, "is an American representing vaguely described movie and cable interests in Europe who seem to have a waterfall of money from banks in Luxembourg and Amsterdam. He's all over town offering unlimited financing, but he won't show up himself at any of the meetings with the networks or studios."

Dozens of islands, from Britain's chilly Isle of Man to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, have boosted their economies by turning into havens for money. While narcotics traffickers launder their dollars through so-called brass-plate companies on these islands, the main business of the tax-free offshore havens is servicing some of the world's largest multinational corporations. "The idea is to put profits where there are the least taxes. Everybody does it," explains the president of a major U.S. corporation's foreign subsidiary.

One technique for minimizing taxes is a quasi-legal fabrication called reinvoicing, a paper shuffle that enables companies to rebook sales and profits into tax havens. For example, one FORTUNE 500 corporation imports raw materials through an offshore dummy company, which buys shipments at the lowest possible price and resells the material to the parent firm at a high markup. This dumps profits in the tax haven, while the U.S.-based company can boost its apparent costs to reduce taxes on the mainland. The profits can then be repatriated in the form of tax-free "loans" from offshore entities to the U.S. parent corporation.

While the IRS tolerates such schemes up to a point, the U.S. Government has tried to choke the river of drug money flowing through the same channels. Yet laundering hot spots tend to be moving targets. After the U.S. negotiated new treaties with Bermuda and Cayman authorities to allow limited access to banking records in narcotics cases, many of the launderers found new havens.

As the financial center of gravity in the world has shifted toward the Pacific Rim, new tax and secrecy havens have multiplied on such remote islands as Nauru in the western Pacific and Palau and Truk in Micronesia. Citizens of Vanuatu, a volcanic archipelago of some 80 islands formerly known as the New Hebrides, have found that international finance beats coconut and taro farming. In Port Vila, the capital, it is not unusual for a $100 million transaction between major international banks to take place on any given day.

Still, Hong Kong remains the pre-eminent laundering center in the Pacific. Almost everyone there does it, usually legitimately, at least according to the laws of Hong Kong, where even insider trading is no crime. By the puritan standards of the U.S., says one American banker, "the lack of public disclosure here is scandalous." The city is a mecca for arms dealers, drug traffickers and business pirates of every description. "Where else could I broker a deal that involves machine guns from China, gold from Taiwan and shipments traded in Panama City?" says a Brazilian arms merchant who maintains an apartment in Hong Kong.

In the U.S. a money-laundering center can be spotted by the huge surplus of cash that flows into the local branch of the Federal Reserve System. In 1985 the Miami branch posted a $6 billion excess. But after several years of intense federal probes of South Florida banks, Miami's cash glut fell last year to $4.5 billion. Much of the business went to Los Angeles, where the cash surplus ballooned from $166 million in 1985 to $3.8 billion last year. Despite such rocketing growth, the staffing of federal law-enforcement offices in L.A. still lags far behind the levels in Miami or New York City.

Both in the U.S. and abroad, financial businesses and even governments are often reluctant to impose regulations to keep out launderers. One reason is that a thriving financial industry brings jobs and income. South Florida's 100 international banks employ 3,500 workers and pump $800 million into the local economy. Even more appealing is the inflow of foreign capital. During the spend-and-borrow era of the 1980s, the gusher of flight capital into the U.S. from Latin America helped finance America's deficits. As in Hollywood, not many politicians were concerned about where the money was coming from. Alarmed by the tide, House Democrat John Bryant of Texas has long pushed for legislation to require disclosure of the identity of foreign investors. But for years, the Reagan Administration refused to go along, claiming that such openness might scare away capital.

Now that a consensus is building that the U.S. must pick out the black money from the gray, the tools at hand seem minimal for the task. Says Jaime Chavez, an international banking consultant: "The people who will probably be searching for it have a very limited knowledge of what money movement is all about. How is a third-rate employee of the Justice Department going to dissect the entire financial system to pinpoint the drug money correctly?" During the Reagan years, the budgets of agencies in charge of ctaching financial cheats failed to keep pace with the changing world of money manipulation. Even IRS agents are largely unprepared for the task of tracking transactions that can involve four or five banks, several shell companies and two or more currencies.

Few agents can be spared because IRS employees are working overtime to contain an explosion of smaller-time money-laundering cases involving car salesmen, ordinary investors, real estate agents and other entrepreneurs. In Florida undercover IRS agents operating a sting operation that they touted as a "full-service financial-investment corporation" have nabbed 50 would-be money launderers in the past year. "Some are lawyers and businessmen who are skimming cash from their businesses, and they've heard about what you can do through an offshore bank," says Tampa IRS supervisor Morris Dittman. "Others have cash that rolls out of the drug trade. When a druggie buys a big home and car for cash, you have a real estate agent and a salesman with sudden cash, and they begin wondering if they have to share it with the Government."

Such amateurs are running afoul of laws that professionals have already discovered. The statutes began tightening in 1986, when money laundering became a specific crime. Later it became illegal to evade the $10,000 currency-reporting requirements by making groups of smaller deposits. Banks have begun to exercise more internal supervision as well, prodded by a series of investigations in the mid-1980s in which such institutions as Bank of America and Bank of Boston were forced to pay hefty fines for their involvement in laundering schemes. Yet many major banks are still participants, witting or not, in ever more sophisticated laundering operations.

To close the gap, Bush's offensive against drug-cash handlers is being placed in the hands of a newly created task force that includes the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Pentagon, as well as a team of drug, tax and customs agents. FINCEN is already at work in a crowded Virginia office littered with discarded coffee cups, overflowing ashtrays, computer terminals and maps of the world. "We're going to be a financial think tank to help train cops who are deluged in financial data," says Gene Weinschenk, acting director of FINCEN's research-and-development division. "We're looking for money, not dope."

The biggest problem may be in deciding how to handle all the borderline illegality the task force will find. "How do you separate drug money from capital-flight money?" asks one of the mavens. "It will be more than drug money we come up with, and what happens when we stumble over a really major company and hold up its dirty linen? Maybe the banks will start turning in the narcotics people rather than lose their biggest customers."

To make a dent in the money-laundering trade, authorities will need more support from the financial community. "They're now willing to tell us about people coming in with bags of cash," says a regulator, "but as far as anything else goes, you can forget it." Yet many bankers think the feds have become indiscriminate in their crackdown. "They are characterizing traditional, ordinary, international banking transactions as money laundering," gripes Gerald Houlihan, a Miami attorney who represents financial institutions in money-laundering and forfeiture cases. "They are not going after money launderers, but are attempting to terrorize banks in an effort to give the impression they are doing something about drugs."

U.S. bankers rightly point out that they must abide by relatively strict currency-reporting laws, while their counterparts in other countries play fast and loose. That discrepancy has prompted Washington to try to persuade the rest of the banking world to adopt the record-keeping system used by American institutions.

The biggest push could come from the provisions of the Kerry Amendment to the 1988 anti-drug abuse act. The law requires the Treasury Secretary to negotiate bilateral agreements on money-laundering detection and prevention with all U.S. trading partners. Countries that refuse to participate or that negotiate in bad faith could conceivably be excluded from the U.S. banking network and clearinghouses. Yet in hearings earlier this year, Assistant Treasury Secretary Salvatore Martoche indicated that the Bush Administration is reluctant to enforce the law zealously for fear of hampering the U.S. banking industry.

But there is more at risk than the dislocation of business as usual. Many experts believe the financial stability and national security of whole countries will be in jeopardy until the problem is solved. Says the head of the Italian treasury police, General Luigi Ramponi: "Now that they are too rich, the drug lords will start investing everywhere: in industry, in the stock market." In the U.S. some lawmakers have begun worrying about the impact of billions of drug dollars invested in U.S. institutions and wonder what influence the drug barons might eventually exert.

The money-laundering game is also creating a mess for investigators of other crimes, who are running into dead ends when they try to identify the players in fraud cases. Beverly Hills police are stymied by last August's Mob-style assassination of Hollywood entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife Kitty, who were shotgunned in the front room of their mansion. Menendez had been an executive and director of Carolco Pictures, an independent movie company that produced Sylvester Stallone's Rambo movies, and police have been unable to unravel his business affairs or identify all his partners. Carolco is controlled by a Netherlands holding company that is, in turn, owned by a tangle of offshore family trusts.

Financial experts are beginning to recognize that Washington will be unable to control drug money unless the U.S. compels offshore financial institutions to make their books "transparent" enough to show the true owners of the money. In the end, the Colombian drug cartels are about to force the world to re-examine the international financial system that has developed haphazardly over the 60 years since the Swiss first popularized secret banking. Countries may not yet be willing to make their banking transactions fully "transparent," but some light must be shed on everyone's books. Says Kerry: "It will take significant leverage and leadership. The President has to have the top bankers in and say, 'Unless you are part of the solution, you are part of the problem.' "

Yet there is still a deep-seated reluctance to take drastic measures. Briefing reporters after a Paris conclave on money laundering last September, a senior U.S. official declared that global efforts to trace drug money will have to be balanced against the freedom from unnecessary red tape. Too many controls, he declared, could "constipate" the financial exchanges. That is the kind of attitude that has brought the system to its current state, in which drug money freely mingles with the life force of the world economy, like a virus in the bloodstream.

With reporting by Reported by Jay Branegan/Hong Kong, S.C. Gwynne/Detroit and Jeanne McDowell/Los Angeles



Full text in http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,150811,00.html

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Favorite offshore banking videos

Youtube has something for everybody... Even videos about offshore banking.



A video by Banca di San Marino



Claudia Meier, Analyst at the bank Vontobel. She follows private banking and wealth management in Switzerland for the bank Vontobel. Claudia is at the origin of the much followed “Wealth Manager Report”, which she launched in 2004.



When your bank treats you like a number, email them a video: "What Can Private Banking Learn from a Top Swiss Grand Hotel"



How NOT to do private banking. Trailer of the Feature Film "I Was a Swiss Banker": Roger smuggles black money in a red bag across the border for reinvestment.



The British angle on Swiss banking by Mr Floppy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Panama law firm Advises in Securing Remittance License


Panama attorneys Lombardi Aguilar & Garcia advised a company in securing a license granted by the Panamanian government to operate a remittance agent.

Panama City, Panama, November 12, 2008 --(PR.com)-- Lombardi Aguilar & Garcia (www.laglex.com) attorneys advised a U.S.-owned subsidiary, in the process of obtaining a remittance agent license from the Directorate of Financial Enterprises of the Panama Ministry of Commerce and Industries (www.mici.gob.pa).

Although Panama hosts a financial center which has no limits on the repatriation of funds and use of foreign curencies, its government has enacted Law 48 of 2003 which requires that non-bank companies receiving funds on a regular basis for their remittance abroad through systems for transfer or tranmission of funds, settlement of funds or any other means, obtain a special license from the Directorate. This ensures that operators receiving funds for electronic transactions systems have information on their ownership, financial solvency and anti-money laundering measures subject to regular review and supervision by a government authority. The Directorate also provides special licenses for lending companies.

The participation of the law firm consisted in the filing, preparation and coordination of the process for obtaining the license to operate a remittance agent. The clients of the law firm are dedicated to offering innovative solutions, payment methods and transactional processing environments for financial entities, banking, government, merchants and consumers. The license holder also markets a variety of solutions oriented to the transactional processing and electronic payment methods environments applied to several technological platforms and markets, for local as well as regional use.

According to statistics of the Directorate of Financial Enterprises, Panama received US$81.4 million in remittances (largely US$46.8 million from the US) during the first half of 2007. US$66.3 million are sent to other countries (mostly US$26.3 million to Colombia by migrants of said country). Already a dozen companies are authorized by the DEF to provide remittance services.

About Lombardi Aguilar & Garcia
Lombardi Aguilar & Garcia was created as an alternative for clients worldwide who seek fast, innovative and effective solutions to their legal problems. The firm currently provides services to individual and corporate clients in Panama as well in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Its partners maintain a commitment with professional ethics and social responsibility by participating in the board of directors of groups such as the Panama Bar Association, the German and the American Chambers of Commerce (AMCHAM) of Panama, and the Association of Chinese-Panamanian Professionals (APROCHIPA).

The firm centers its law practice in private client services and asset protection (Private Interest Foundations, Trusts), business structures (Offshore Corporations), tax planning, real estate and e-commerce. It also advices in areas of Law such as Corporate, Commercial, Intellectual Property, Maritime, Tax, and Immigration Law as well as related litigation that may arise.

For more information, contact +507 340-6444, e-mail aaguilar (at) nysbar.com, or see: Lombardi Aguilar & Garcia http://www.laglex.com/

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Monday, November 03, 2008

CNBC covers Latin Fever in Panama


Some people are still bullish on Panama....



Real Estate October 2008

Latin Fever


With real estate bubbles bursting across Europe, investors are heading for booming Latin America, says Sorrel Downer

Sweltering in a battered taxi in the heart of a street market in Panama City, it's easy to forget that this is a top destination for some of the world's most powerful commercial real estate investors. But, owing to the turbulence in the North American and European property markets, Panama, along with Mexico and Brazil, is beginning to look like a safe port in the storm. As European investors look to reduce risk through diversification and higher returns, Latin America is coming under closer scrutiny.

The service, natural resource and manufacturing sectors got the lion's share of the €67bn in foreign direct investment poured into the region last year, but there has been sustained growth in the real estate sector that doesn't look like easing off, and it's real estate that is regarded by many analysts as one of Latin America's best performing assets.

The UK has been slow to go to Latin America. "Sitting here in London," says Thompson, "very few people in charge of funds have Latin America on their radar, mainly because there's very little experience of doing business there, and more interest in Asia and Russia. But people are putting a toe in the water. We're starting in Brazil because of the size and stability, but also looking at places like Costa Rica and Panama - countries where there is genuine wealth, inflation is under control and there's a boom in real estate underpinned by a growing middle class."

Investors see the potential of real estate in Panama City's old quarter, now undergoing renovation, funded partly by foreign capital. But then Panama is full of positive signs: the expansion of the canal, proposals for refineries, and the development of banking, communications, tourism, and call centre industries evoke a certain optimism. Already, there are so many prestigious tower block developments underway along the shoreline of the Bay of Panama that there's talk of a glut. But enterprising investors are finding solid alternatives: financing office developments, for example, sometimes on a large scale such as the €435m 'mini-town' project on a former military base in the Canal Zone for which UK firm London & Regional Properties beat off 16 international competitors; or residential investments in exclusive gated communities and resorts up the coast, on the Azueros Peninsula, and on the Pearl Islands, or retirement communities in the temperate mountains around Boquete.

New arrivals to Panama will find themselves in hot competition with homegrown investors, as well as the North American firms squeezed out from Costa Rica, where land prices have rocketed and prime beachfront land parcels have been snapped up.
http://www.cnbceb.com/ViewArticle.aspx?PageID=1238


More about Panama real estate investments in the Home: World - Panama Buying the Home of your Dreams DVD video from Amazon

Monday, October 27, 2008

Re : new laws - question on migration



1. In theory one could leave just before the end of the 90 days and reenter. However, upon reentry an immigration official can take a hard look at the cluttered rubber stamps and bar entry for abuse of the 90-day term (I have never heard of it happening in Panama but it does happen in the US).

2. From the short stay, I have a feeling you did not wait long enough to have your picture taken for your 3-month card and you were supposed to get a Multiple Entry Permit under the old law. Depending on when you return, you may have to pay a fine.



De: Shari1551
Objet: new laws - question on migration
Date: Mercredi 3 Septembre 2008, 9h43

Hello,

I was just at your website and read the new laws. Perhaps you can assist me with a couple of questions.

1. If a person goes to Panama on a 90 day visa, I am assuming they have to leave after 90 days. Can they still leave for 24 hours and come back in. If not, what happens.

2. My pensionado was applied for on July 29th. I entered Panama on the 26th of June and left on July 9th. I just received an email from my lawyer stating that new laws in Panama say it is necessary to pick up a special card at migration office to obtain a "migration status" when you are in Panama. This card have the duration of three months. For that reason you should return to Panama in the next two months.

He speaks broken English and I want to be sure to understand what he is saying. Can you translate this for me so I can understand. I am living in the United States and will move to Panama when my home sells.

Thank you so much.

Shari



Monday, October 20, 2008

Yellow Fever vaccination recommendations

After much contradiction from a Ministry of Health and the chaotic implementation of a vaccination program, the yellow fever vaccination is no longer required for all travelers entering or leaving Panama. Under Communique 3 and Resolution 840 of 2008, effective November 1, 2008, the vaccination is RECOMMENDED for travelers:
- departing Panama to Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela in South América, and Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Camerun, Congo D.R., Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan in Africa,
- travelling to Panama province East, San Blas and Darien province.

The good intentions of the vaccination were overshadowed by thousands of complaints by taxpayers from long lines at MINSA vaccination centers and an irrational limit of 300 vaccinations per day.

While Panama may not make the vaccination compulsory, other countries may demand that travellers coming from Panama have the yellow WHO International Vaccination Certificate.




WHO List of Yellow Fever countries
Rescinded MINSA order to vaccinate
.