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Documents reveal offshore deals with Apple, others

By Afp
Published: 16:35 EST, 5 November 2017 | Updated: 18:15 EST, 6 November 2017

Protesters in..

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By Afp

Published: 16:35 EST, 5 November 2017 | Updated: 18:15 EST, 6 November 2017

Protesters in France last week carried signs urging Apple to

Protesters in France last week carried signs urging Apple to "pay your taxes" in a reference to its dispute with EU authorities over back taxes

New revelations Monday from the "Paradise Papers" shed light on Apple's tax avoidance strategy which shifted profits from one fiscal haven to another as well as loopholes employed by Nike and Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

They are the latest disclosures from a trove of documents released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) concerning secretive offshore deals that have proved deeply embarrassing.

According to documents cited by the New York Times and BBC, the offshore legal services firm Appleby helped the iPhone maker shift tens of billions of dollars from Ireland to the Channel Islands when it appeared to face a tougher stand on taxes by Dublin.

The report said Apple transferred funds to the small island of Jersey, which typically does not tax corporate income and is largely exempt from European Union tax regulations.

Apple did not immediately respond to an AFP query on the report but told the New York Times it follows the law in each country where it operates.

At a 2013 congressional hearing, Apple chief Tim Cook denied the use of "gimmicks" to avoid taxes. The company is now facing an EU demand for some $14.5 billion in taxes based on a ruling that its tax structure in Ireland amounted to illegal state aid.

– Hamilton's jet –

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton could not be reached for comment on leaked documents on how he avoided taxes on a private jetMercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton could not be reached for comment on leaked documents on how he avoided taxes on a private jet

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton could not be reached for comment on leaked documents on how he avoided taxes on a private jet

The BBC and Guardian newspaper reported Hamilton avoided paying taxes on his private jet using an elaborate scheme now under investigation by British tax authorities.

The leaked documents showed the driver received a £3.3 million ($4.4 million, EUR3.7 million) tax refund in 2013 after his luxury plane was imported into the Isle of Man — a low-tax British Crown Dependency.

Representatives for Hamilton could not be reached by AFP for comment.

A separate report appearing in France's Le Monde said Nike used a loophole in Dutch fiscal law to reduce its tax rate in Europe to just two percent compared with a 25 percent average for European companies.

The tax savings came from Nike's use of an offshore subsidiary which charged royalties to the company's European subsidiaries, the report said.

– Trump official's Russia ties –

Leaks show US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circleLeaks show US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circle

Leaks show US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circle

Separately, the documents showed the Russian connection of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross through a complex web of offshore investments.

They revealed Ross's 31 percent stake in Navigator Holdings partnership with Russian energy giant Sibur, which is partially owned by Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian president's friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions.

The cabinet member's ties to Russian entities raise questions over potential conflicts of interest, and whether they undermine Washington's sanctions on Moscow.

The US imposed sanctions on Russian entities and individuals over the annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine.

The billionaire investor told Bloomberg on Monday he was not intending to hold onto his stake: "I've been actually selling it anyway but that isn't because of this."

On Monday, Russian politicians played down the leaks, saying the deals mentioned were legal and not politically motivated.

In a statement reported by Russian news agencies, Sibur voiced its "amazement at the politically charged interpretation in some media of ordinary commercial activity."

Earlier reports highlighted offshore holdings of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and a top fundraiser for Canada's prime minister.

The documents showed around £10 million ($13 million, 11 million euros) of the queen's private money was placed in funds held in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, as first reported in Britain by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper.

Theresa May's spokesman said the British prime minister "wants people to pay the tax that they owe," while cautioning that holding offshore investments was not an automatic sign of wrongdoing.

"We have been clear that avoidance and evasion is never acceptable," he said, ahead of the British parliament discussing the Paradise Papers on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the monarch with an income and handles her investments, said: "All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate."

The documents also suggest that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's top fundraiser and senior advisor Stephen Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, moved some $60 million (52 million euros) to offshore tax havens with ex-senator Leo Kolber.

The 13.4 million documents were first obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with the ICIJ and partner media outlets.

The findings were described as a "scandal" by European Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

"In light of these shocking revelations, I call on member states to rapidly adopt a European tax haven blacklist, as well as other dissuasive measures," he said in Brussels.

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Australia

Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms

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The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.

The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.

All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.

It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.

British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.

The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.

The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.

It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.

“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.

“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”

The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.

It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128

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Australia

Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official

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Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.

The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.

Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.

Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.

Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”

However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.

Australia’s tight restrictions

The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.

Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.

A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.

Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.

Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.

Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.

Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.

The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.

While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.

Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.

In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581

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Australia

Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection

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The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.

Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.

Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.

It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.

The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.

Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”

“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.

“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”

Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.

Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.

For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.

Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.

A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.

Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane

At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.

When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.

Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.

While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.

But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.

And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.

And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836

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