Walmart is the world’s largest corporation. It truly is the poster child for corporate America and boasts an annual revenue of $482,000,000,000.
What people are often not aware of, is that Walmart is stripping capital out of countries where it was earned and laundering it through a complex web of subsidiary companies in tax havens around the world.
Currently, it is estimated that there is upwards of $76,000,000,000 hidden in these tax havens. This corporate behaviour is seldom seen in retail, but due to Walmart’s global reach, they have been able to exploit the same tax avoiding schemes normally reserved for Banks. This allows Walmart to shift profits offshore through unfathomably convoluted methods.
Subsidiary companies established to avoid taxation
In 1999, Asda was bought by Walmart for £6.7 billion for it to become one of many subsidiaries of the giant multinational company. Under Walmart governance the store saw great increases in profit year on year, but in 2008 Asda generated £520.4m in profit before tax, which was down from £532.7m the previous year.
This, on the surface of it, seems like the store had declined in that year and therefore, logically, the chief executive has not done the best of jobs for that year. This, however, was not the case. Asda’s accounts for the year revealed that chief executive Andy Bond’s pay, not including pension contributions, rose by 19% to £1.27m.
This pay rise is likely due to ‘group restructuring’ that involved Wal-Mart Stores (UK) to ‘sell’ 3.1bn ordinary shares in Asda in return for a £5.7bn cash payment and £1.24bn in shares from Corinth Services Limited, which is also a subsidiary of Wal-Mart Group Company.
At the same time as this deal was taking place, five Asda directors were appointed to Corinth’s board, joining existing directors Andy Bond, Asda’s chief executive, and Judith McKenna, Asda’s finance director.
An Asda spokesman said this was underpinned by ‘good financial management’ reasons. When asked if the move was tax driven, he declined to comment, and insisted that the companies were registered in the UK.
While the spokesman went out of his way to stress that Corinth was a UK registered company, this serves to implicitly say ‘we aren’t using offshore tax havens as shell companies’. However, because these corporations have the best legal minds at bay, this point becomes moot. Our taxation system is dated and cannot accurately regulate a globalised economy, and because of this tax can be greatly minimised here in the UK via unfathomably convoluted methods. For instance, this year, Corinth had a tax bill of £4,660,000 on profits of £431,353,000 (see below).
While this is the amount of tax they were liable to pay, they actually got a tax credit for this exact amount of money (see below). Also, notice the year before that saw a tax credit of £128,747,000.
Asda will argue that this money was paid in some way shape or form by one of the other subsidiary companies in the corporate structure. But, this just highlights the lunacy of corporate management. Why on earth does one company need several different companies to handle business? The ‘group restructuring’ certainly didn’t simplify the company’s operations, but rather allows ASDA to thrive in the obscurity of corporate tax law that relies on exploitation of loopholes.
Use of tax havens
This network of subsidiary companies is governed by intermediate parent companies in tax havens which allow the company almost complete privacy from scrutinising eyes. While we cannot, legally, access the accounts of these companies in tax havens, the very nature of the tax havens leave very little to the imagination and provides compelling circumstantial evidence that subsidiaries are an integral part of the Walmart’s global business affairs.
The first thing that is glaringly apparent is that Walmart conducts no retail business from these tax haven subsidiaries and rarely employ anyone below director. The second cause for suspicion in this dubious corporate behaviour is that Walmart has 27 subsidiaries in Luxembourg and the Netherlands with assets valued at $77.6 billion. There is no verifiable information about assets held in other tax havens
As detailed earlier, Asda is owned by Corinth Services Limited, and as the spokesman stated, it is domiciled in the UK. However, Corinth Services Limited has an intermediate parent company between itself and Walmart Inc. What the spokesman did not disclose is that Corinth is owned by Amsterdam based ‘Broadstreet European Holdings cooerpatie BA’, and Luxembourg based ‘Azure Holdings Sarl’ – to which Walmart is the ultimate parent company.
The rationale behind this is that Walmart transfers ownership of its foreign operating companies to subsidiaries in tax havens. The UK has at least 10 of these subsidiaries operating under the guise of ‘holdings groups’ or ‘investment services’. They have no employees below that of director and pay virtually no tax.
Ownership is then transferred from these subsidiaries to shell companies in tax havens.
These shell companies play a middleman-like role in multinational corporations’ international tax-planning strategies as they are not expected to pay income tax where the money was earned. Rather, they are *expected* to pay taxes in their home country, the US, on the income they receive from the entity. This system allows Walmart to effortlessly shift earnings around the globe.
In 2016 Asda transferred a£450 million dividend to Asda Holdings UK limited. The dividend was the first Asda had paid to Wal-mart since 2009 and the biggest since the £1.4 billion it paid in 2003.
A further trail of documents shows a higher dividend sum of £505 million was then transferred from yet another Wal-Mart owned company based in Britain to Amsterdam based Broadstreet European Holdings cooerpatie BA. It should be noted that ASDA’s profits have been down this year, and therefore seems odd that they make dividend payments at this time.
While Walmart is concentrating a lot of its foreign earnings in Luxembourg through dividend payments, they’re paying very little tax there. Between 2010 and 2013, Walmart’s subsidiaries reported paying 0.18% tax ($2.4 million) to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits.
Not only does Walmart strip earnings out of countries via the methods discussed, they also generate about $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making ‘phantom’ interest payments to WMT Global Holdings Limited Liability Partnership – registered in the UK but owned by Wal-Mart international holdings Inc. and WM Sarhco 1, LLC – by using what tax planners call hybrid loans which effectively makes this income disappear for tax purposes in both Luxembourg and the US.
Money is also ‘invested’ in various tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg.
The company has its foreign operating companies take out long-term loans from Walmart subsidiaries in tax havens and thereby generates tax-deductible interest payments to those subsidiaries. This allows Walmart to dodge taxes in countries where it earns profits by simply paying interest to itself in places where the interest will be taxed lightly or not at all. This is known as earnings stripping.
The most compelling evidence for this intercompany tax avoidance scheme is seen in Walmart’s UK retailer – Asda.
Analysis of financial statements issued by Asda subsidiaries demonstrates that Walmart has avoided $850 million in UK taxes from 2004 through 2014 by transferring £2.06 billion – roughly ¼ of Asda’s earnings – to Walmart subsidiaries in Luxembourg via tax-deductible interest payments.
Due to the opaque nature of Walmart’s financial transactions and use of subsidiaries in tax havens it makes it difficult to assert this is their intention as documentation is not publically available. However, previous multinationals such has Amazon and Apple have been proven to have operated under this methodology and is consistent with the interpretation that it is to avoid as much tax as possible.
Why stockpile earnings in tax havens?
In July 2011, Mike Duke – ex Walmart CEO – testified before the Senate Finance Committee in favour of a ‘territorial’ tax system that would exempt foreign earnings of US based multinationals from US income tax.
If this system were to come into effect Walmart and many other US multinationals would be able to repatriate £2.1 trillion in profits that are currently offshore and untaxable by the US.
It seems as though Walmart has been biding its time and stockpiling its low-taxed foreign earnings offshore in anticipation of the Republican tax ‘reform’ bill, which would ‘bigly’ reduce the tax rate paid on current offshore profits that have not been taxed where they were earned and exempt them from US taxation under a territorial tax system.
In this time Walmart’s offshore ‘earnings’ have more than doubled, and international spending has declined. Walmart will argue that the money has been ‘indefinitely reinvested’, but this is an outright lie. Instead of reinvesting in the stores and employees of Asda, they have been siphoning the money to Luxembourg and forcing the staff to take the burden by cutting hours and staff.
Walmart not only indirectly steals money from economies by not paying fair share of tax
Research published by Citizens UK found that companies in the UK don’t pay staff enough and therefore forcing them to rely on government assistance. ASDA, as well as other big supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons) are costing the tax payer just under £1,000,000,000 a year in tax credits paid to top-up criminally low salaries.
This system is enabled by our government because it essentially gives the green light to these supermarkets as they know they can continue to offer low wages and have them supplemented by tax payer money.
Asda argues that this state intervention allows them to keep prices low for the consumers. But, at a time when public spending is being axed and a cap being placed on public sector jobs, is it really reasonable to expect the tax payer to fit the bill for the likes of Asda to continue to make outlandish profits whilst they continue to exploit their workers?
This goes against a classic concept in economics. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ tells us that for a capitalistic economy to work, people should only work in their own interest, and he went on to stress that when people (corporations) claim to be acting in the interest of the consumer, this should be seen as a warning sign.
The whole notion of tax credits was introduced by Labour in 1997 and was to lift the low-paid out of poverty. This legislation was introduced when Britain was a staunch manufacturing nation. However, as the markets have shifted from manufacturing to a more services-based economy, the labour markets have been hollowed out. This shift has had the effect that those at the top are doing incredibly well with the stock market on a seemingly endless assent, but this funnelling of money to the top of the system has the effect of implying that the economy is excellent with record profits and soaring stock markets, while pushing more and more people into low paid, government assisted employment. One thing that can’t be stressed enough, is that the stock markets and company profits are not the bench mark for measuring how well an economy is doing.
It is easy to think that this is an accurate measurement of an economy, but these figures are only made possible by those at the base of the labour pyramid. For instance, consider a cheerleading pyramid – 3 on the bottom, 2 in the middle, and one on the top. The person on the top is supported by the two lower structures, and without them, the person on top would not occupy the position on top.
The tax credit system and other benefit schemes are only viable if they are used to top up particularly low paying jobs in fairly rare circumstances. But, as low paying jobs become more prevalent, the system becomes less of a safety net, and then becomes normalised as a fact of working life.
When employers expect these handouts to their staff, they have no incentive to pay higher wages. All this is happening during a time when trade unions are being weakened and therefore strengthening employers’ ability to exploit their work forces.
This is not to say that corporations are evil and should be eradicated. They are not people and are therefore amoral. They are incentivised to make as much profit as the rules (law) will allow them to make. It’s our governments that enable this behaviour and while I, and many others think this activity is repugnant, it’s irrelevant. However because companies like this have a hive-like mind, no one is responsible for their behaviour and therefore no one feels a sense of guilt.
The myth of trickledown economics
This is the ugly manifestation of a well-established falsifiable economics model – trickledown economics.
This economic theory massively favours the wealthy by catering to their every need and allowing them huge tax breaks and other benefits. This, in turn, is theorised to ‘trickledown’ onto everyone else in the economy. But this has been proven time and time again not to work and demonstrates a strong positive correlation between trickledown economics and reduced growth, and instead finding that higher taxes on the wealthy is linked to economic growth.
If trickledown economics was working, ASDA wouldn’t force its staff to rely on government assistance, and the previously outlined stockpiles of cash in tax havens would be trickling down on us all.
Instead, we are shamed into relying on government programs, even when we have a job.
Capitalism is based on free-market forces, but in a world where our citizens are forced to rely on the state while multinational corporations bleed dry our economies by extracting billions, can we honestly say we are capitalists?
There is a two-tier economic system in play, in which the majority of us are under socialist rule with very little state assistance as there are scarce resources, and the minority are enjoying the fruits of capitalism.
If you are wondering why our beloved ‘free press’ isn’t reporting any of this, it’s because they (‘mostly’ right wing press) use the similar loopholes to avoid paying taxes. They can’t point the finger without turning themselves in. It’s not journalists that are guilty (I hope), but rather the media barons that own the paper that would likely lift any story that could cause a stir. This would also explain the predisposition of many outlets favouring Brexit, because the EU is enacting an ‘Anti Tax Avoidance Directive’ that comes into force in 2019, which, as pointed out by a savvy twitter user, coincides with the time frame of the UK leaving the EU.
Contrary to popular opinion, Brexit does not mean Brexit, and we should be sceptical of those who stand to benefit from lack of EU oversight.
When the Conservative government says we have no money, they’re right. But, the reason we skint as a country is because our hard earned cash that is being spent on everyday essentials is being siphoned to tax havens and collecting dust until a corporate friendly government is sat in the oval office that will reward their criminal behaviour with further tax breaks on foreign earnings.
Michael Ashcroft – 95th richest person in the UK – is worth a respectful £1,350,000,000, according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2017. Ashcroft has an interesting back story and appears to embody a classic story of success built upon savvy business acumen. That said, after establishing himself as a prominent figure in the city, he turned to becoming a major donor to the Conservative party. However, this Tory bank fund was not without its controversies originating from Lord Ashcroft’s non-domicile status which allows claimants to pay very little in UK income tax.
During his tenure, David Cameron was subjected to public pressures to reveal Lord Ashcroft’s tax status, but dismissed the pressure and insisted it was a private matter and therefore not admissible to the general public. This was because during the 2010 election cycle, the large donations received by the Tory campaign from Ashcroft, prompted Cameron to overlook this ethical quagmire by claiming it was his ‘patriotic duty’ to beat Labour candidate Gordon Brown. In response to this, then home secretary Alan Johnson accused the Tories of hypocritically weaponising ‘patriotism’ by allowing funding from someone he viewed as ‘basically unpatriotic’.
When the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats came into power, Ashcroft received nothing in return for his ‘generosity’ to Cameron’s campaign. The driving force behind this snub is believed to have been due to Nick Clegg’s intervention, blocking Cameron from appointing Ashcroft to a high ranking role in the new government.
Cameron later offered Ashcroft junior whip in the foreign office, to which Ashcroft replied ‘After putting my neck on the line for nearly 10 years – both as party treasurer under William Hague and as deputy chairman – and after ploughing some £8m into the party, I regarded this as a declinable offer. It would have been better had Cameron offered me nothing at all.’
Establishment quarrels aside, this ‘pay for play’ system cannot and should not be acceptable in a functioning democracy, let alone these figures feeling emboldened enough to openly discuss their disenfranchisement after failing to bribe their way into relevance.
In addition, because Ashcroft and many other non-domiciled establishment figures exploit loopholes in our taxation system, an amendment was introduced to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in 2010.
The amendment requires all MPs and peers to be domiciled in the UK for tax purposes. This prompted Lord Ashcroft to surrender his status as a non-domicile resident in the UK to retain his seat in the House of Lords. However, in March 2015, Lord Ashcroft announced he was resigning his seat because his business activities did not allow him ‘to devote the time that membership properly requires’. This abrupt resignation of his seat was bizarre given his prominent interest in UK politics and thusly prompted the question – did he resign his seat to restore his non-domicile status and reduce his UK tax bill?
This question went unanswered by Ashcroft, but a document obtained by The Independent demonstrated in the week proceeding his resignation, Lord Ashcroft sold 350,000 shares in an American company netting him £7,600,000. If Ashcroft retained his peership, UK taxation law would have taken 28% of this through capital gains (£2,100,000). However, if the sale was completed at the beginning of a new financial year, he could reinstate as a non-domicile citizen and avoid this cost, as the shares were in an American company, and therefore regarded foreign earnings by the HMRC. A spokesman for Lord Ashcroft declined to comment on his tax status.
Margaret Hodge, then Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said ‘It cannot be right that the system allows people to opt in and out of non-domicile status depending on their circumstances in any given year’.
While Lord Ashcroft stood down from his seat, he continues to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on polling and owns several political websites including Conservative Home.
The Billionaire ex-Tory peer is aptly nicknamed as Britain’s ‘Pollfather’. However, it is no secret that as a House of Lords peer he ran polls and targeted marginal constituencies for David Cameron. Since he stepped down from the House of Lords, many have speculated that he was no longer beholden to the Conservatives and therefore regarded as a neutral pollster by which many believe will enable unprecedented tactical voting. This supposition of neutrality is difficult to maintain considering Ashcroft’s lifelong support of the Conservatives and even more so considering his estimated donations are said to top £10,000,000.
Ashcroft truly is an excellent pollster, but in 2005, when working in the interest of David Cameron, more controversy was born after he privately funded ‘the biggest political polling exercise in British history’.
The polls were carried out by YouGov and Populus, and estimated to have cost £250,000. However, sources told the Guardian, that the bills were paid by one of Ashcroft’s companies in Belize, which would have allowed him to dodge VAT of about £40,000.
Treasury spokesman for the Liberal Democrats told the Guardian: ‘This is quite serious. We are now not talking just about Ashcroft’s non-dom status, but about systematic tax avoidance in funding Conservative party activities such as polling. How far were the Conservatives aware that Ashcroft did not pay VAT, as would have been incurred by any normal polling activity?’
In response to the allegations, a Conservative spokesperson said ‘We do not recognise this as Conservative party polling.’ For those of us not familiar with the tongue of the ruling class, this roughly translates to ‘am a bovad?’
This more recent controversy concerning the right honourable gentleman’s dubious behaviour is not new, rather, more of the same. For instance, letters published by The Guardian between Tony Blair, Lord Thomson, and William Hague in 1999/2000 demonstrate a lifelong pattern of this behaviour.
Also, in 1999, Ashcroft’s international business activities were further marred in controversy after an intelligence research specialist for the US drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) leaked Ashcroft’s name as being on their radar.
The Times – Rupert Murdoch’s attempt at a high-brow paper – printed these allegations on their front page. However, if you trust Ashcroft’s Wikipedia page, ‘later investigation by various British media sources from information released under the US Freedom of Information Act showed that at no point did the DEA personally investigate Ashcroft’.
On March 31st 2000, Ashcroft came to be successfully nominated to the House of Lords and sought legal action against The Times. After a back-and-forth between the two parties, they decided to settle the issue out of court which resulted in The Times printing a full front page retraction of its allegations ‘The Times is pleased to confirm that it has no evidence that Mr Ashcroft or any of his companies have ever been suspected of money-laundering or drug related crimes… Litigation between the parties has been settled to mutual satisfaction, with each side bearing its own costs’.
So, this leaves two alternatives: 1) The Times openly admits to lying to its readership/country 2) Ashcroft and Murdoch cut a mutually beneficial deal behind closed doors
As a true believer in the excellent service Wikipedia provides, I, like everyone else who uses the site, should check the references for credibility. The previous quote claims to reference a Guardian article that wholly exonerates the right honourable gentleman – yet provides a hyperlinked source which doesn’t seem to exist, and while ‘technically correct’, is omitting key elements of what actually happened – including high ranking Tories leaning on the BBC’s Panorama investigation into Lord Ashcroft.
Ashcroft was correct when he said there wasn’t any evidence implicating him directly with crimes and the DEA was not investigating him of doing so. However, the tax haven he controls in Belize, as with most, encourages fraud, money laundering, drugs and bribery in the area with corruptible officials.
Ashcroft began his don’t ask don’t tell business venture in the early 1990s when he bought a controlling stake in the largest local bank – the Belize Bank – and encouraged local politicians to pass laws that encourage secretive offshore financial dealings, and rewarded such officials by paying annual registration fees to the government – to us common folk, these can be referred to as bribes.
This unregulated environment created a hot bed for illegal activities such as:
The Banner Fund. Two Californians funnelled UK/US tax payers out of $6.5mThe Ricke case. US drug smugglers moved $700,000 of ill-gotten gains into Belize offshore companies – though not proven. One $25,000 was reportedly paid into the bank controlled by Ashcroft – though no evidence the bank or Ashcroft knew the money was dirtyThe half-ton of cocaine. DEA arrested a trafficker linked to the Cali cartel. However, the embassy reported ‘he effortlessly escaped from imprisonment’ in 1995 – aided by incentivised officials. This fiasco ended with Washington listing Belize as ‘a major drug transit country’.
All this morally bankrupt, yet completely legal, activity began after the International Business companies (IBC) act was legislated in 1990 which allowed individuals to establish shell companies to outmanoeuvre one’s tax authority.
Due to the lack of credible government oversight during legislation, IBCs were not mandated to be audited. Therefore, fake/shell companies can declare profits without evidencing where the money came from – tax free of course – and then legally transfer the money to a bank account in their home country.
Ashcroft, however, has a different spin of events. In 1996 Ashcroft gave his interpretation of events at the US embassy. ‘Ashcroft insisted that little, if any, money laundering is conducted in Belize,’ said an embassy official.
However, for example, the aforementioned Ricke Case was not proven. This is due to the anonymous nature of IBCs. The properties were listed under ownership of several anonymous entities, of which the ownership was protected by the way the Act was legislated.
So, while Ashcroft was ‘technically correct’ that he was not being directly investigated for criminal activity, it is no secret that his bank and legislative efforts created this environment for nefarious activity.
So, in light of information discussed, it seems The Times were onto something which may not be illegal, but certainly ethically dubious.
Returning to the suggested possibility of a deal between Ashcroft and Murdoch regarding coverage of Ashcroft’s potential criminal activity, an interesting timeline of events emerges, particularly after Ashcroft’s 2004 $1,000,000 donation to the Australian ‘liberal’ party that was, and still is, backed by Murdoch. Was this the deal the two cut behind closed doors?
Ashcroft is just one of many establishment elites who exploit our archaic taxation system, to incur wealth that can objectively be viewed as stolen from UK government services such as the NHS, in order to bolster his economic and political status.
It is high time we expose these elitists and take action against ‘the few’ in the name of ‘the many’
We cannot continue to have an elitist party in government that turns a blind eye to elicit dealings and in return gets campaign donations.
We have been told time and again that Corbyn’s economic policies are in the land of fantasy. That he’d bankrupt us before bedtime and send us back to the 1980s in Venezuala. Portugal’s Socialist government have shown that to be a malicious lie spread by those who serve the Conservative party.
Portugal went a similar way to Britain after the financial crash and following European debt crisis. It elected a Conservative government to cut it’s debt in 2011. However it did need a bail out from the IMF which it received on the promise of Austerity reforms, the bailout was €78bn.
Just like in our nation services were privatised, VAT raised and public sector jobs took a pay freeze if they were lucky. Education got a 23% cut, health and social security went the same way.
The result was 17.5% Unemployment in 2013, a 41% jump in company bankruptcies and year after year of net economic decline. The best annual GDP growth of the nation was 0.9% in 2014. Every other year saw the economy shrink.
However in 2015 a Socialist coalition got into power. Their radical reforms included raising the minimum wage, lifting a freeze on pensions and cancelling pay cuts for civil servants. Sound familiar? The clincher, to really show they are the Portuguse Corbyn’s Labour, they introduced 4 new bank holidays.
The opponents of this government pronounced it fairy-tale economics. Sure to bankrupt the economy.
That didn’t happen.
What did was a full economic recovery. The economic growth jumped, 13 quarters of consecutive growth followed. Unemployment reduced by 7.7% since it’s peak.
Now Socialist government’s have a reputation of creating short-term growth at a long-term cost.
When I informed one of my centrist writers of their recovery he said this:
“The problem with Socialist governments is they can generate short-term growth but pile on the debt long term”
Portugal has halved its deficit in two years. Our austerity measures have taken off 3/4 in 7 years, but we will not achieve a balanced budget until 2025 if Theresa May is to be believed.
We do not need austerity to reduce our debt. And we cannot continue with Austerity if we wish to keep our public services.
Investment led growth is the way to go.