Suzanne McGee writes: “Only the little people pay taxes,” Leona Helmsley, New York’s “Queen of mean” once famously opined. The statement, delivered in court by one of her “little people” helped send the late billionaire real estate mogul to jail for 19 months for failing to pay her dues.
It’s hard not to think of the late Leona amid the revelations still pouring out from the Panama Papers. The massive treasure trove of 11.5m documents from the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca leaked to the media has disclosed a staggering amount of detail about how the rich and powerful have used shell companies to hide their wealth from the taxman and others around the world.
Done right – the way that the lawyers at Mossack Fonseca promised their super-wealthy clients they would be done – shell companies are almost untraceable. And that enabled those clients to use them to stash money made from illegal weapons, human trafficking or drugs, or shelter cash from the tax man or other kinds of regulatory scrutiny.
It’s just another way that the rich can take advantage of breaks that would elude us even if we wanted them. Sure, you or I could set up a shell company of sorts, by establishing a limited liability company. But our names, and our social security numbers, are attached to it. And it’s domiciled here in the US. While there are ways to use US shell companies fraudulently, most of us would have a hard time doing it without paying big bucks for the assistance of high-priced attorneys. [Continue reading…]