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In tax havens of Asia Indian offshore wealth parks itself

NEW DELHI: Offshore wealth held by Indians in tax havens has surged nearly 90 per cent since 2007 to $62.9 billion (about Rs 4 lakh crore) in 2015. That's about 3.1 per cent of the country's GDP in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

Also, contrary to popular belief, Switzerland is no longer the preferred destination. Over 53 per cent of this Indian wealth is now held closer home in Asian tax havens like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Bahrain and Malaysia. Swiss bank hold 31 per cent of Indian wealth, down from around 58 per cent in 2007.

This trend has emerged from analysis of data released for the first time by the Basel-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS) on bilateral foreign holdings. Till last year, BIS, which is the nodal data clearing house for all international financial transactions, did not disclose the country of origin of the data.

Analysing the new data for an NBER paper, economist Gabriel Zucman of UCLA and his colleagues Annette Alstads198ter of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen calculated that total offshore wealth in the world was $8.6 trillion, which is about 11.6 per cent of world GDP. It is up 54 per cent since 2007. Non-financial assets like art or real estate are not included in these figures.

These new estimates for India show that the much-publicised struggle against hoarding of black money in foreign banks is not making much headway. All that seems to be happening is that as Switzerland has become slightly more transparent, and leaks like the Panama Papers have exposed other tax havens, the outward flow has shifted to new pastures like Hong Kong and Singapore.

There is wide disparity among the countries in terms of what share of their GDPs is secreted away in offshore tax havens. From just a few per cent of their GDP in Scandinavian countries, the wealth rises to 15 per cent in Continental Europe, and to as much as 60 per cent in Russia, Gulf states, and a number of Latin American countries. China has about $287 billion offshore wealth, which is 2.4 per cent of their 2015 GDP. Analysts say the reason these variation exists cannot be easily explained by tax rates or institutional factors.

"Among countries with a large stock of offshore assets, one finds autocracies (Saudi Arabia and Russia), countries with a recent history of autocratic rule (Argentina and Greece), alongside old democracies (United Kingdom and France). Among those with the lowest stock of offshore assets, one finds relatively low-tax countries (Korea and Japan) alongside the world's highest tax countries (Denmark, Norway)," Zucman and his colleagues write.  ..

One important contribution of this analysis is that the wealth of the wealthiest section, the top 0.1 per cent of the global population, needs to be recalculated by adding this offshore wealth to their existing wealth figures. This will likely further increase the inequality in their countries.

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