Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Most Prolific Capitalists in the World

It's an interesting case.  Dozens of reports exist over the episode.

News broke this week over a USB stick that arrived in North Rhineland Westphalia (NRW) to the finance tax folks.  It was a simple envelop....with just a to-address on the front.  No return address.

The USB stick?  It contained a listing of 70,000 Maltese companies, of which 2,000 are connected to German owners.  A suggestion of hidden wealth or avoidance of German taxes?  Yes. A strong suggestion.

What the NRW folks say is that tax investigators will be spending a number of months looking over the data, the 2,000 German owners, and assessing their tax implications.  My guess is by the fall of 2017....some Germans will be getting letters asking them to appear in NRW to explain their companies.

For those who've never been to's a small island group (a north island and a south island).  A total of 122 square miles make up the two islands.  Total population?  Roughly 450,000 people....more or less.  Seventy thousand Maltese companies....for 450,000 people?  You can do the math.  If this was correct, then they'd be the most prolific capitalists on the face of the Earth.  Roughly one out of every seven folks owns a company.  Well....if they were all Malta residents.

My humble guess is that while you might find 2,000 Germans in the you roll across Europe, there are probably 2,000 French owners, 2,000 UK owners, and so on.  You might even find several thousand American owners in the bunch.

What kind of businesses are these?  Unknown.  No one has dug into the episode enough to say.

One of the little odd things about Malta is that they 'flag' an awful lot of vessels, for passenger and transport.  You could easily find companies residing there in Malta....with three or four freighters, and the owners of varying nationalities who don't admit their profit to their home country. I can only speculate, but I might assume that a quarter to half of these 2,000 Germans on the list are vessel owners.

The amount of taxation that might come into NRW?  Again, one can only speculate....but I''d take a fairly educated guess that it'll end up being more than one or two billion Euro.

But I come to this odd question.  This is an anonymous envelop.  Who found the data?  Who sent the USB stick to NRW.  A hacker?  An ethical Malta official?  A Russian KGB guy?  Chinese hackers? Some 16-year-old Hamburg kid who just happened to hack into Malta's database?  Some North Korean hacker?  Unknown.

My favorite theory is that it was some NSA geek sitting around and just accidentally found the listing and tried to get his bosses to share the data with the Germans, and they said no.  Then the NSA geek decided to do this on his own.

The implications of all of this?  Well....between the fine and back taxes owed....NRW and Germany itself will probably get a minimum of two billion Euro.  They will offer the info to other EU members and others will be dragged in.  Altogether, there might be ten to twenty billion Euro collected in fines and back taxes.

For the business men who used the Malta gimmick? They are finished.  They will sell their operation and leave Malta.  The 70,000 businesses in Malta will dwindle down in three years to probably less than 5,000 businesses.  The office where this listing was maintained?  If I were the chief guy there....I'd probably retire and find some dark corner to hide out for a couple of years

There's a great story here to be written.....about the most prolific capitalists in the world, where businesses pop up daily and take in millions in profit.....dodging taxes left and right.

Oh, and there's one final note.  Those 450,000 residents of Malta?  Well...back in 2013, Malta changed the citizenship law.  If you were a foreigner arriving in Malta and had 650,000 Euro to invest into a business....there would be an arrangement for you to earn Malta citizenship (a passport), and even keep dual-citizenship.  Wife and kids?  Add another 25,000 Euro each onto the the 650,000 Euro.

Out of the 2,000 Germans listed on the USB stick....I would take a guess that at least a hundred of them have some 2nd passport deal going on and area Malta citizens.  For the Germans, this might complicate the whole thing a bit.

Are all 450,000 Malta residents just plain Malta-residents....or are 10,000 of them dual-citizens?  Unknown.  You might be surprised to find a fair number of the 450,000 just weren't pure Malta residents.

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