Thursday, 28 November 2013

the man with the midas touch, a spider's touch

I tend to keep the news in German on the t.v. On in the background and usually I can play-along at home with divided attention but there has been a lot of talk and debate recently over tax reform and much mention of the Goldfinger Steuermodell—“Goldfinger nichts mit James Bond zu tun.” The German tax code is something impenetrable, I image even for a native, so I decided to investigate: Goldfingern, as a gerund, refers to the practise of taking advantage of a certain tax-shelter, a loophole (indeed named after the Bond villain Auric Goldfinger), which the Bundestag is moving to close.
Essentially businesses and individuals with the means buy enormous amounts of gold (or some other asset that's going to increase in value and easily convertible) through an agent, a front-company, in some other country and declare the purchase a loss in order to zero out their tax liability. Given the geometric progression on the increase of the price of the commodity, they stand to make a profit whenever they choose to sell—the next day or next year. Under existing treaties that aim to mitigate double-taxation, avoiding having to pay taxes to one's country of allegiance and to where the profit was made, money made from such transactions are not subject to tax. The agreements state that the rate will be adjusted to reflect the profits but as those engaging in this practise are already in the top bracket, there is no additional tax collected. It does not only happen in Germany, of course, and uncounted billions are estimated to be lost. When one hears about giant corporations paying nothing into the tax-coffers despite record profits, goldfingern is one of the tricks they employ—and it is not that they have particularly clever or ruthless tax-preparers.