A mysterious Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group has attracted the attention of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune Magazine, and government authorities in the United States and other countries. The cause of the scrutiny has been Anbang’s sudden involvement in a number of massive multi-billion dollar real estate investments around the World. Formed in 2004, Anbang apparently holds assets worth at least $295 Billion, but a months-long investigation by the New York Times has revealed an extremely opaque structure, empty offices, obscure shareholders, and extensive political connections to the Chinese elite. Analysis of Anbang and its operations holds a potential lesson for Canadian authorities fretting over foreign buyers and skyrocketing real-estate prices.


Today’s long-expected announcement that the European Union has assessed that Apple owes €13 Billion ($14.5 Billion) in back taxes to Ireland and the EU, is only one part of a much larger story of multinational corporations global tax jurisdiction and tax avoidance, and a looming fight between the EU and US over which one gets the €13 Billion. There is not much disagreement whether Apple actually owes the money. It also reopens the as yet unresolved matter of multinational corporate taxation, most recently exposed by Pfizer’s announcement that it would move its HQ to Ireland to avoid U.S. taxation, which was later blocked by the U.S. government.


Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has quit an advisory panel to Panama’s government set up after the Panama Papers scandal. Some 11.5m documents, leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, revealed huge offshore tax evasion.The government appointed a panel to look at Panama’s financial practices. But Mr Stiglitz and and Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, who also quit, said government interference in their work amounted to “censorship”. The seven-person panel also included Panamanian experts. “I thought the government was more committed, but obviously they’re not,” Mr Stiglitz told Reuters news agency. “It’s amazing how they tried to undermine us.”


I am sharing this because of its particular relevance to the ongoing revelations about connections between global tax evasion shell companies and real estate markets: London, Miami, New York City, San Francisco and Vancouver.


The release of the Panama Papers is of such potential significance and magnitude that it is difficult to know where to begin. I have decided that I will begin with the most interesting and relevant topic for me, the Canadian angle: possible links from Mossack Fonseca’s tax haven shell companies to the Vancouver BC real estate market, the current Canada Revenue Agency investigation of KPMG’s Canadian offshore tax haven scheme, and potential conflicts of interest within CRA. The KPMG and CRA issues have been extensively investigated and reported by CBC News, and also discussed on this site.


In a continuation of the story first reported by the CBC some months ago, and also reported here, the CBC has discovered a secret CRA amnesty offer to fifteen wealthy KPMG Canadian clients. There is no “quid pro quo” included in the amnesty offer, requiring that the individuals provide evidence or testimony in the current CRA case against KPMG in the Courts. It should be noted that the UK government is also pursuing prosecutions of at least four KPMG partners in the United Kingdom. KPMG settled out of court in a similar case in the United States. The Swiss government has also successfully prosecuted UBS for a similar tax haven scheme.