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Bailed-Out Firms Use Offshore Tax Havens

KEN THOMAS   01/16/09 09:34 PM ET   AP

Morgan Stanley

WASHINGTON — Eighty-three of the nation's 100 largest corporations, including Citigroup, Bank of America and News Corp., had subsidiaries in offshore tax havens in 2007, and some of the companies received federal bailout funding, a government watchdog said Friday.

The Government Accountability Office released a report that said Bank of America Inc., Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley all had more than 100 units in countries that maintain low or no taxes. The three financial institutions were included in the $700 billion financial bailout approved by Congress.

Insurance giant American International Group Inc., which has received about $150 billion in bailout money, had 18 subsidiaries. JPMorgan Chase & Co. had 50 units and Wells Fargo & Co. had 18; both financial institutions received government bailout money.

Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who requested the report, have pushed for tougher laws to fight offshore tax havens around the globe. Levin, who leads the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, has estimated abusive tax havens and offshore accounts cost the U.S. government at least $100 billion a year in lost taxes.

"I think we should take action to shut down these tax dodgers and we will be introducing legislation to do just that," Dorgan said.

General Motors Corp., which received $13.4 billion from the federal rescue package, had 11 offshore subsidiaries while GM's financing arm, GMAC LLC, had two offshore units. GMAC, whose majority owner is private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, received $5 billion from the Treasury Department in late December.

Citigroup said in a statement that it has more than 4,000 subsidiaries around the globe "which enables us to serve hundreds of millions of individuals and institutions in more than 100 countries." A News Corp. spokeswoman declined comment. Messages were left with several of the companies identified in the report.

Separately, the GAO said 63 of the 100 largest federal contractors maintain subsidiaries in 50 tax havens.

Levin noted that many competitors use the tax havens to varying degrees. PepsiCo Inc. has 70 subsidiaries while the Coca-Cola Co. has eight units. Caterpillar Inc. had 49 while Deere & Co. had three.

"We need to put an end to the use of offshore secrecy jurisdictions as tax havens," Levin said.

The GAO said the subsidiaries could be established in the countries "for a variety of nontax business reasons" and said having a business unit in one of the countries "does not signify that a corporation or federal contractor established that subsidiary for the purpose of reducing its tax burden."

Citigroup had 427 units in 23 countries, including 91 subsidiaries in Luxembourg and 90 in the Cayman Islands. Morgan Stanley had 273 units, News Corp. had 152 and Bank of America had 115. Procter & Gamble Co. had 83 subsidiaries and Pfizer Inc. had 80 in the jurisdictions.

Several major corporations have announced plans to leave Bermuda, a leading offshore business center, amid the global financial crisis and fears of tighter tax rules. Tyco Electronics Ltd., which makes electronic components, and Foster Wheeler Ltd., an engineering and construction company, are reincorporating in Switzerland _ which has a tax treaty with the U.S. _ for tax and other reasons. Covidien Ltd., a health care products company, is heading to Ireland.

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On the Net:

U.S. Government Accountability Office: http://www.gao.gov/

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Filed by Nicholas Sabloff  |