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Netherlands serves as tax haven for the world's largest companies31 January 2013, by Carly Blair
Since 2005, many of the world's largest multinational companies have been using the Netherlands as a tax haven, according to an investigation carried out by the Volkskrant into the annual reports of the 100 largest companies in the world and their Dutch subsidiaries.
In 2011, these multinationals funnelled at least 57 billion euros through the Netherlands, paying little tax in the process. Of those investigated, Google, IBM and ENI were the worst offenders.
The Volkskrant's research indicates that the tax burden on so-called "mailbox firms" is extremely opaque, but in any case very low. These companies have confidentiality agreements - called tax rulings - with the Dutch tax authorities, and paid between 0 and 5 percent tax on the money they brought to and from the Netherlands.
For these transactions, these companies used about 1.000 mailbox firms, most of them relatively recently founded in the Netherlands. The companies, which include Google, Microsoft, Gazprom and Wal-Mart, also take advantage of a number of Dutch tax constructions to reduce their tax burden.
The Dutch tax structures lead to turmoil abroad, since huge companies paying less and less taxes forces governments in their home countries to shift the tax burden to their citizens and to cut public services.
The Volkskrant's research revealed that 91 of the 100 largest companies in the world are active in the Netherlands. At least 60 of them operate in the Netherlands only for the purpose of tax evasion, and another 17 are highly suspicious.
The Netherlands has already come under fire for the huge tax benefits it permits foreign companies. For example, last year many British citizens were outraged to learn that coffee chain Starbucks had a special deal with the Dutch tax authorities which allowed it to avoid paying taxes in the UK.
While the European Parliament voted to ban the use of mailbox firms for tax evasion purposes last year, so far no real action has been taken by the Dutch government to stop the practice, even though the revenue gained by the Netherlands by allowing it (~1 billion euros) is small compared to the total cash flowing through the country.