WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Move over Switzerland. The tiny state of Delaware beats the Alpine country in a contest for the most secretive financial jurisdiction, a tax justice rights group said on Saturday.
The United States, led by the eastern seaboard state, took in $2.6 trillion in deposits from non-resident corporations and individuals in 2007, according to a survey of financial jurisdictions analyzed by the Tax Justice Network.
The survey of laws, practices and size of inflows in 60 jurisdictions found Delaware coming in first, followed by Luxembourg and then Switzerland. The Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom round out the top five.
“While the U.S. has been jumping up and down and saying ‘Aha, bad, wicked Swiss banks,’ the U.S. is doing exactly the same things as far as non-resident bank account holders,” said Sarah Lewis, executive director of the group, based in the U.K.
Switzerland has been the poster child for financial secrecy over the past year. The United State sued Swiss global banking giant UBS AG, which paid a $780 million fine to settle a lawsuit against it by the government. As part of the deal, UBS admitted it actively helped Americans evade U.S. taxes.
The ranking is based on a composite of total offshore activity and measures such as whether a jurisdiction obtains beneficial ownership information about companies and the degree of cooperation in turning over requested financial information.
Delaware is attractive because it does not tax profits realized outside the state and does not require companies to be physically present, according to the Tax Justice Network.
UBS and Credit Suisse have about 200 entities in the state, according to the group.
There are nearly 700,000 active entities registered in Delaware — and about half of those publicly traded in the United States, according to the group.
Total U.S. deposits of non-residents rose from about $1 trillion in 2001 to $2.6 trillion in 2007, according to the study.
In Luxembourg, non-resident deposits rose to $500 billion from $101 billion over the same period. In Switzerland, such deposits rose to $1.45 trillion from $103 billion during the period.
Larry Hamermesh, a business law professor at Widener University in Delaware, said the state gets an unfair rap.
For example, he said tax justice groups criticize the state for not obtaining companies’ beneficial ownership information when they incorporate in the state.
But no other U.S. state actually requires such information, Hamermesh said.
“Delaware is no more secret than any other U.S. state,” he said, noting that Delaware’s attraction to business is its flexible laws and expert courts.
Editing by Dan Grebler