Dutch inquiry calls for overhaul of trust office industry

AMSTERDAM, July 5 (Reuters) - Many trust offices based in the Netherlands and beyond ignore international laws and regulations, facilitating money laundering, corruption and tax avoidance, a Dutch parliamentary inquiry said on Wednesday, presenting its findings.

Chairman Henk Nijboer said he hoped the findings would spur parliament into action to reform the industry, given they showed “serious” problems.

Trust offices help manage financial assets on behalf of their owners, and the Netherlands is home to many due to its favorable treatment of dividends and royalties, wide network of tax treaties, and long-standing tradition of pre-negotiating tax deals with companies.

Holland Quaestor, the industry group that represents trust offices, was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

Dutch Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem introduced stricter rules for trust offices in 2015, but critics say oversight is still too lax.

The inquiry’s findings come after the largest Dutch trust office, Intertrust, listed on the stock market in 2015 and as rival TMF is considering an initial public offering.

“At Intertrust, we adhere not only to the letter but also the spirit of laws and treaties, including those which govern our client’s dealings,” Intertrust said in its submission to the inquiry.

The inquiry panel, which did not name any individuals or companies accused of breaking laws, compiled information from representatives of trust offices, tax advisers, regulators and other experts from eight days of hearings under oath last month.

Among those interviewed was Jan Favie, manager of the Dutch companies that pop groups The Rolling Stones and U2 use to oversee their intellectual property rights.

He argued it was a widespread misunderstanding that the musicians use Dutch trust offices to lower their taxes, but said, rather, they were attracted to the Netherlands because of the country’s managerial “expertise, good infrastructure and stable legal environment.”

The parliamentary panel concluded that oversight of trust offices was limited, due to insufficient staffing at the country’s central bank (DNB) and national tax office.

An area of particular concern was that trust offices often fail to identify the people behind capital flows, as they are required to do by law. That enables tax-dodging and other criminal behaviour, the committee said.

In a statement included as part of Wednesday’s report, the DNB called for the abolition of all trust office processes that help mask the identity of clients. (Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Toby Sterling and Mark Potter)