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Media spotlight on Google’s Bermuda billions

Britain’s biggest circulation Sunday newspaper has put Bermuda under the spotlight regarding billions of dollars that are sent to the island by internet giant Google.

The Sun on Sunday yesterday published a story about Google directing an estimated $8 billion of profits a year to the island, and noted the company’s only physical presence in Bermuda is a post office box, numbered 666, located at the General Post Office in Hamilton.

The newspaper explained how Google moves money through Ireland and the Netherlands before it reaches Bermuda, where Google Bermuda Unlimited and Google Ireland Holdings are registered at the address of law firm Conyers Dill and Pearman, on Church Street.

A postal delivery worker and a receptionist at the law office were quoted in the article as saying Google did not have an office at that location.

Financial arrangements used by the technology heavyweight to minimise its tax bills have been widely known for many years. Bermuda earns no tax revenue from the billions sent to the island as it has a zero per cent tax rate on corporate profits. However, the international media attention focused on Google’s use of Bermuda has done no good to the island’s reputation.

The Sun on Sunday has an average circulation of about 1.5 million. Details from its story were yesterday also featured by the Mail Online, the internet site of British newspaper the Daily Mail , which is the country’s largest national newspaper website with an average of 14.6 million unique daily users.

Meanwhile, a story in another British newspaper, The Observer , said Britain is lobbying the European Union to remove Bermuda from a blacklist of tax havens.

Google has come under renewed scrutiny in Britain after its parent, Alphabet Inc, last week reached a £130 million ($185 million) settlement with the country’s tax authorities. The deal covers tax payments going back to 2005.

In a Bloomberg report, Sajid Javid, Britain’s business secretary, said the agreement “wasn’t a glorious moment” and he shared “the sense of unfairness” felt by small businesses that are unable to use the tools available to multinational corporations to keep their taxes low. “Work needs to be done” to ensure they pay the correct share, he said.

Peter Barron, Google UK’s head of communications, said it was not a “sweetheart deal”, as some have portrayed it, and added: “Government puts the laws in place, HMRC [HM Revenue and Customs] enforces the laws and we follow the laws. If the laws change, of course we would follow them.”

Mr Javis said Britain has closed more than 40 tax loopholes, signed information exchange deals with other countries and pressed for changes in international rules, and that work needs to continue. He added that the Google deal would help in the drive to change companies’ attitude to taxation.

Last June, Bob Richards, Bermuda’s finance minister, expressed hope that the EU would soon remove the island from its list of uncooperative tax jurisdictions after two of the 11 European nations that had nominated Bermuda for the list, Poland and Latvia, said they no longer tagged the island with a negative rating.

This view was echoed by Ross Webber, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Business Development Agency, who pointed out that the island has 83 treaty partners, including 41 tax information and exchange agreements, and Model 2 agreements with the US and Britain under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Under scrutiny: Google directs billions of dollars of revenue to companies in Bermuda