Since the 911 incident, the international crackdown on money laundering has created a divide in the offshore industry, primarily between jurisdictions eager to comply with international standards of anti-laundering regulation and those that are less co-operative. The driving force behind those initiatives, have been influential organizations such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF was established by the G-7 countries in 1989 and is an inter-governmental body whose purpose is the development and promotion of policies, both at national and international levels, to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. As the FATF seek to apply more international pressure, it will become increasingly difficult for the less well-regulated regimes to do business.
Another major issue is the exchange of information, the profile of which has been raised in the current climate. The recently agreed EU Savings Tax Directive will change the face of the offshore industry, although to what extent is somewhat harder to predict. Previously no information was exchanged automatically in Europe unless there were concerns about illegal activities on a bank account. However, with the introduction of the EU Tax Directive, customers living within the EU are likely to be forced to engage with these issues, either by having to pay a withholding tax or agreeing to exchange information. The new directive will affect not only the EU Member States but “all territories under their control”, Switzerland and the USA. The UK has recently announced that if the Cayman Islands fail to voluntarily comply with these new rules, the United Kingdom will legislate on its behalf.
To this effect, Hong Kong will soon become a much more important jurisdiction for tax planning as it is one of the only respectable and well-regulated “offshore” banking centers which will not be subject to the new EU directive on automatic exchange of information and withholding tax.
Hong Kong should also be seriously considered for clients wishing to register an offshore company, as it is one of the few respectable locations in the world that tax on a “Territorial Basis”. Consequently, this means that corporation tax is ONLY charged on profits derived from a trade, profession or business carried on in territory of Hong Kong. Income sourced elsewhere, even if remitted to Hong Kong, is treated as tax free.