Belgian companies sent €172.3 billion to the world’s tax havens in 2018, De Tijd reports.
The figures concern income made in 2018, taxable in 2019. The preferred tax havens for Belgians were the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uzbekistan, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Turkmenistan.
The figure concerns sums of money sent abroad which were legally reported to the tax authorities. Any sum over €100,000 which is sent to one of the 30 or so recognised tax havens has to be reported.
That was done by 790 companies or legal persons in 2018, fewer than in the previous year, when the total came to €206.8 billion. However it was still well above the figures for 2016 (€82.8 billion) and 2015 (€129.9 billion).
“These are particularly high figures,” said Axel Haelterman, lecturer in tax law at the university of Leuven.
“This shows that companies and groups are still using entities in tax havens. You might think that this phenomenon was disappearing, but that’s not the case.”
However he pointed out that the tax impact on the Belgian treasury is not necessarily as serious as it might appear.
“These are not only sums that will be deducted for tax,” he said. “They could be loans being repaid. It’s really a mixed bag of transactions. All the same, these declaration are useful. The tax authorities certainly have to follow up to make sure nothing crooked is going on, as well as to ascertain just what needs to be investigated further.”
The nuance was confirmed by Francis Adyns, spokesperson for the tax authorities.
“We can’t really talk about fraud or black money, because this is about declared payment sums,” he said.
“The payments are screened. They have to be actual and genuine transactions, and not artificial constructions. If we notice suspect structures, the situation is investigated further. In the tax year 2018 about 75 dossiers were looked at, including 35 that were investigated in more depth. Ten of those dossiers came into the hands of the Special Taxation Investigation branch.”
The headline figure of €127 billion is nonetheless remarkable given that the tax haven at the top of the list, the UAE, exported goods for a value of €1.2 billion in the first eleven months of 2019 while an additional but unknown amount may have involved the diamonds trade.
Further down the list, Uzbekistan and Turmenistan had exports of several million, while the Caymans and Bermuda sold less than €100,000 worth of goods to Belgium.
In total, then, the top five countries for receiving transfers from Belgium sold no more than a generously estimated €2 billion in goods which Belgian companies had to pay for. That leaves another €125 billion at least unaccounted for.