The Netherlands: A Tax Haven?

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I guess it's fairly obvious that there is a short answer to the above question. It is 'yes'. The Netherlands is a notorious tax haven.

Equally, those who know me also know that whilst I'm happy to draw unambiguous conclusions, I like to do so in the basis of reasoned argument. This is a case in point. I'm pleased to say that a report with the above title has just been published by Dutch NGO SOMO. It has been co-authored by Michiel van Dijk, Francis Weyzig and me. I must add, I'm rightly last on that list. My co-authors did much of the work on this report, and a good job they've made of it too.

As the report says:

This report investigates the extent to which the Netherlands can be regarded as a tax haven. All the empirical evidence indicates that the Netherlands is a tax haven. This is because it deliberately offers companies who would not otherwise seek to be resident within its territory the means to reduce their tax charges on interest, royalties, dividends and capital gains income from subsidiary companies.

And as it continues:

As a consequence, the Netherlands hosts nearly 20,000 so-called 'mailbox companies' which do not have a substantial commercial presence. The data indicate every year more new mailbox companies are established, in particular during the period 2003-2006.

The report notes:

The[se companies] mainly function as conduits for dividend, royalty and interest payments. It has been found that out of the 42,072 financial holding companies registered in the Netherlands for which information on the (ultimate) parent was available, 5,830 are managed by trust companies. Of these mailbox companies, 43% have a parent in a tax haven jurisdiction such as the Netherlands Antilles, Switzerland, Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands. Hence there is a clear link to tax havens for conduit structures.

The reports conclusions are, I think, worth reproducing in full:

  • The Netherlands must put an end to harmful tax policies and stop being a bridge between tax havens and other countries as soon as possible. The Netherlands needs to review its taxation policies in the interests of the world community at large. They should be revised to ensure that a level playing field is created where each country receives the fair taxation due to it as a result of the commercial activities undertaken within its borders.

  • However, tax havens are a global problem which requires a global solution, and the Netherlands putting an end to its harmful tax policies is a necessary but not sufficient step. Hence it is important that the Netherlands also actively puts pressure on other OECD countries to follow suit.

  • The Dutch government should commission an official research on the Netherlands as a tax haven. This SOMO report is the first comprehensive report on this issue and a more detailed study, including a more quantitative analysis,would be desirable.

  • The Dutch Central Bank (DNB) should regularly publish statistical information on SFIs.

  • To support transparency, a new mandatory International Accounting Standard should be adopted that requires multinationals to provide detailed financial information on subsidiaries.

  • All relevant actors, including corporations, government, civil society organisations, consultants, and analysts, should recognise refraining from tax avoidance as a core element of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Issues such as a multinational's presence in tax havens and the use of mailbox companies do not require fiscal expertise and can easily be assessed by any organisation. In the end, such measures are perceived to be in the interests of multinational corporations themselves as well.