When Google established its international tax scheme, it followed a path well worn by other multinational companies. The company booked its sales from outside the U.S. at its international headquarters in Ireland. Most of that profit was then sent on to the Netherlands, largely free of tax. From there, the money went on to a well-known tax haven, the sunny islands of Bermuda. By the time the technology giant parked its money there, it had reduced its foreign tax bill to the low single digits. The scheme, known in tax avoidance circles as the “Double Irish” with a “Dutch Sandwich,” helped Google save billions in taxes. Last year, for example, Google registered $4 billion in sales in the United Kingdom, but only paid $10 million in taxes in that European country.
Multinationals and the rich alike have long utilized tax havens from the Cayman Islands to Singapore — territories that collect low or no taxes on international businesses — to hide money and avoid hefty tax bills. Apple, Facebook and Pfizer have all purportedly employed a version of the “Double Irish.” And a study released by the Tax Justice Network in July found that wealthy individuals have stashed between $21 trillion and $32 trillion in offshore accounts. The lower sum is the size of the Japanese and U.S. economies combined. What’s more, analysts see growth in the hedge fund industry, which means more business for tax havens.