||英일간 더선, 버뮤다 현지 르포로 폭로…"사무실도 직원도 없어"
"연 14조원 흘러가는 구글의 버뮤다 유령회사 사서함은 '666번'"
英일간 더선, 버뮤다 현지 르포로 폭로.."사무실도 직원도 없어"
입력 2016.02.01. 16:13
英일간 더선, 버뮤다 현지 르포로 폭로…"사무실도 직원도 없어"
(서울=연합뉴스) 김지헌 기자 = 세계 최대 검색엔진 업체 구글의 막대한 수익은 조세회피처로 유명한 버뮤다 섬의 한 우편사서함으로 들어간다는 주장이 제기됐다.
영국 일간 '더 선'은 지난달 31일(현지시간) 일요일판에서 "구글이 버뮤다 섬으로 보내는 연간 80억 파운드(약 13조6천억 원)는 버뮤다 우체국의 666번 사서함으로 간다"고 보도했다.
미국 동부 해안에서 1천㎞가량 떨어진 대서양에 있는 영국령 버뮤다 섬은 법인세가 없는 조세회피처로 유명하다.
구글이 버뮤다에 개설했다는 사서함이 있는 우체국 모습<<더 선 캡처>>
↑ 구글이 버뮤다에 개설했다는 사서함이 있는 우체국 모습<<더 선 캡처>>
구글이 버뮤다 섬에 개설했다는 666번 사설함<<더 선 캡처>>
↑ 구글이 버뮤다 섬에 개설했다는 666번 사설함<<더 선 캡처>>
구글의 영국 홈페이지 모습(EPA=연합뉴스 자료사진)
↑ 구글의 영국 홈페이지 모습(EPA=연합뉴스 자료사진)
구글이 버뮤다로 매년 막대한 돈을 넘겨 세금을 줄인다는 사실은 잘 알려진 것이지만, 정부 당국이 구글로부터 적절한 세금을 거두지 못한다는 비판 의식을 가진 영국 언론이 '구글 때리기'에 나섰다.
더 선은 버뮤다의 법인 등록 담당기관에서 '구글 버뮤다 언리미티드'와 '구글 아일랜드 홀딩스'라는 업체가 버뮤다의 '코니어스 딜 & 피어먼'이라는 로펌에 주소를 두고 등록한 것을 확인했다.
이 로펌은 구글의 사서함이 있는 우체국에서 3블록 거리에 있다.
버뮤다 우체국과 로펌이 입주한 건물의 관계자들은 구글이 버뮤다에 진출한 것을 전혀 몰랐다고 한다.
우체국에서 4년째 우체부로 일하는 데릭 워드(51)는 "구글이 (로펌이 있는) 건물에 있는 줄은 몰랐다"고 말했다.
우체국 사무원 카를라 캔 역시 "버뮤다 섬은 작은 곳이고 우리는 여기서 일어나는 모든 일을 안다"며 "구글에서 일하는 사람은 본 적이 없다"고 말했다.
로펌이 있는 건물의 안내 담당자도 "35년째 여기서 일했지만 구글은 이곳에 사무실도 직원도 없다"고 말했다.
하지만 이 담당자의 컴퓨터로 찾아본 결과 '코던'(codan)이라는 이름의 이 로펌 계열사를 통해 '구글 버뮤다 언리미티드'가 우체국 666번 사서함에 등록돼 있었다고 더 선은 전했다.
이 매체가 확인한 사서함은 작은 철제 상자로 우체국 벽면에 붙어 있는 평범한 형태였다.
영국은 미국에 이어 구글의 두 번째 큰 시장으로 여겨진다.
그러나 유럽 내 수익을 아일랜드 자회사 2곳과 네덜란드 자회사를 거쳐 버뮤다로 보내는 구글의 이른바 '더블 아이리시 앤드 더치 샌드위치' 기법 때문에 영국 세무당국이 구글로부터 제대로 세금을 걷지 못한다는 비판이 팽배하다.
최근엔 영국 국세청이 2005∼2014년 구글이 내지 않은 세금을 1억3천만 파운드(약 2천228억 원)로 산정하기로 구글과 합의하자 국세청에 대한 비난이 쏟아졌다.
이 기간에 구글은 영국에서 60억 파운드(약 10조 2천875억 원)를 벌어들인 것으로 추정된다.
더 선은 "(구글이 영국에서보다 적은 수익을 내는) 프랑스 세무당국은 구글에 영국보다 훨씬 많은 세금을 매기려고 한다"고 분개하며 "이 작은 사서함이 버뮤다 섬에 있는 구글의 유일한 흔적"이라고 비꼬았다.
8bn-a-year in Google postbox: Inside giant’s secret Bermuda haven
No office, employees or sign, just a tiny lock-up
They use it to funnel fortune on zero-tax isle
World wide web ... how tech firm are cheating the system
EXCLUSIVE from PETE SAMSON, US Editor and ISLA HARVEY in Bermuda
16:01, 30 Jan 2016
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TECH giant Google is funnelling an estimated £8billion of profits a year through a nondescript postbox in Bermuda.
The firm has taken advantage of the sunshine island’s zero corporate tax rate to set up Google Bermuda Unlimited.
There are no employees, no office and no signage to be found there.
Its only presence is the tiny metal box bearing the number of the beast, 666, and housed at a post office building in the capital Hamilton.
Small mailbox... the firm's only presence on the island
Small mailbox... the firm's only presence on the island © Splash News
Last week Google — whose slogan was once “Don’t be evil” — was slammed over a deal to pay HM Revenue & Customs £130million in back taxes covering the last ten years, despite profits of £6billion.
That’s a rate of just three per cent.
Google says it has no permanent UK base despite a string of fancy offices housing 2,300 staff.
At the Bermudan government’s official Registrar of Companies, Google Bermuda Unlimited and Google Ireland Holdings are registered to the address of Conyers Dill and Pearman, a law firm at Clarenden House, 2 Church Street, Hamilton.
Is Google here? ... giant is just tiny post box at office
Is Google here? ... giant is just tiny post box at office © Max Butterworth / Splash News
The firm specialises in “offshore corporate, litigation and private equity matters”, and its address is just three blocks from the post office which houses the PO box.
Google, which makes most of its money through online advertising, has been moving profits to the tax haven via Ireland and Holland.
In 2013, it sent £7.5billion in global royalties to its Bermuda-based subsidiary, according to the company’s own accounts.
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It is thought this will have risen to more than £8billion for last year.
This will include hundreds of millions earned from UK users of the search engine.
Yet few people in Bermuda realise the tech giant holds its entire global earnings, excluding the US, on the island — including those who work at the very building housing the law firm.
Derrick Ward, 51, has delivered mail in the postal department of Conyers Dill & Pearman for the past four years.
Postie ... Derrick
Postie ... Derrick © Splash News
He had no idea Google’s offshore base was on his doorstep.
Derrick said: “Google don’t have an office in the lawyers’ building. I’m sure we’d know about it if they did.
“If there was a Google HQ on Bermuda it would be clear to see. I hear they have football pitches at their offices. I’ve never met anyone who works for Google in all my life”.
The Sun on Sunday approached a receptionist at the law firm who claimed she had been working there for 35 years.
She also had no idea that Google conducted business dealings on the island, a British overseas territory.
Speaking from the drab-looking office, which is decked with plastic ferns, 1980s-style furniture and tacky oil paintings, she said: “Google doesn’t have an office here, they don’t employ any staff here.”
But after referring to her computer, the receptionist said that Google Bermuda Unlimited is registered at PO Box 666 through the law firm’s affiliate company, called Codan.
Long-time post office clerk Carla Cann said: “I’ve never heard of Google being on the island.
“It’s a small place. We’d know all the businesses here. I’ve never met anyone who works for Google.”
The search giant’s presence in the UK is a far cry from the windowless reception of the Bermudan law office.
Here it has multi-million-pound contracts to rent four central London buildings plus a northern headquarters in Manchester.
It is also spending £1billion on London super-HQ for 5,000 staff.
The offices, including its main HQ in the multi-coloured Central St Giles, are renowned for their bold and trendy interiors and spaces for staff to enjoy, including a free bar.
Six years ago, HMRC began auditing Google for its international tax structures and the fact it moves revenue through countries that have lower tax rates than the UK.
Chancellor George Osborne hailed the Treasury’s settlement to get back £130million from Google in unpaid back taxes as a victory for the taxpayer.
Osborne ... championed puny deal
Osborne ... championed puny deal © Reuters
But the deal was blasted by critics, who said Google should have been paying ten times that amount.
And last week David Cameron defended the Tories’ efforts at collecting Google taxes, saying it should have been done under the last Labour government.
The whistleblower who helped reveal how Google was avoiding paying tax in the UK called it a “sweetheart deal”.
Barney Jones, 37, an executive at the tech firm from 2002 to 2006, added that “heads should roll” at HM Revenue and Customs for allowing it to pass, and that the figure was “pocket change” for Google.
Steve Hilton, a former adviser to David Cameron, said he sympathised with public anger because Google appears to operate “above the law”.
He said: “There is a growing sense that companies that are so big and so dominant, not just in the marketplace but in the way they relate to governments, their lobbying efforts and so on, that they really are above the law.”
Britain is Google’s biggest market outside America yet French tax officials are close to squeezing far more out of the firm in back payments.
Google executive Matt Brittin has defended its UK tax deal.
Google man ... Matt
Google man ... Matt © Reuters
And Peter Barron, the company’s European public affairs chief, added: “We are paying the full amount of tax that HMRC agrees we should pay.
“Governments make tax law and tax authorities independently enforce the law, and Google complies with the law.”
The Sun called Conyers Dill and Pearman’s Bermuda office and asked to speak to the person who dealt with the Google account.
We were referred to Samira Saya, corporate manager at the law firm’s affiliate Codan.
Asked about the firm’s work with Google, she said: “We’re not in a position to discuss our clients.”
Google claims its Bermudan operation does not impact the tax paid in the UK.
The company deploys a strategy known as the “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich” to shrink its tax bill.
It sends revenue first through a company in Ireland, which has lower corporation tax than the UK, then to a company in Holland and finally to a second Irish company headquartered in Bermuda.
Google is one of five giant US tech firms sitting on huge piles of cash, including Apple and Microsoft.
The companies keep the majority of their overseas earnings abroad to keep it beyond the reach of the US and its 35 per cent tax rate on repatriated cash.
Tomorrow Google is expected to announce its global cash stockpile is £30billion.
Fury of business bosses
SMALL businesses say they get a bad deal from the taxman while big firms use loopholes to claw back fortunes. Here are two traders’ views . . .
‘They make it so difficult for small firms’
Unhappy ... Greg Couzens
Unhappy ... Greg Couzens © Paul Cousans
GREG employs eight hairdressers in Rochdale, Gtr Manchester, and has had the taxman checking his returns six times.
The 55-year-old, said: “I pay a fortune in tax, and everything is in order but they try to make it as difficult as possible for small firms.
“Hair salons are seen as easy prey because they used to be a cash-only business. I don’t mind the taxman watching me but six times is ridiculous.
“It takes up hours of work and causes sleepless nights because you’re terrified you’ve made a mistake. Small firms bear the brunt, big business gets away with it. It isn’t fair.”
‘Large coffee chains pay 0%. It isn’t fair’
Steve Lewis ... championing small business
Steve Lewis ... championing small business © PA:Press Association
EX-Army officer Steve and wife Sam have run Number 18 café for 11 years in Crickhowell, South Wales.
Traders there have launched the Fair Tax Campaign.
The 63-year-old, who starred in BBC show The Town That Took On The Taxman, said: “While I pay 20 per cent tax on my profits, the large coffee chains use legal loopholes to avoid tax, or negotiate with HMRC to reduce their bill to zero.
“The playing field is not fair for people like us and it damages communities.
“We need someone in charge at the tax office who will champion small businesses.”
Cam’s big u-turn on US tech firm’s tax
Boasts ... the PM
Boasts ... the PM © Getty Images
By RYAN SABEY
DAVID Cameron once argued firms like Google paid too much tax.
He signalled, while opposition leader, that the web giant and other large companies set up HQs elsewhere because UK rates were too high.
Mr Cameron told Real Business magazine in 2006 that Labour ministers should look at Britain’s tax structure.
He said: “Google and others are headquartering elsewhere as we’re no longer tax competitive.”
He said he would make corporation tax a priority, sharing “proceeds of growth between public spending and tax reduction”.
Labour’s Jon Ashworth said last night: “No one believes the Tories want a fairer system.
Their record is of cutting millionaires’ tax while ordinary people pay more.”
‘UK office is a sham’’
GOOGLE’S 2,300 UK staff earned an average wage of £160,000 each in 2015, it is reported.
This is despite the firm’s insistence that its operation here is amodest part of its global empire.
Margaret Hodge, former chair of the public accounts committee, said the high pay is further evidence Google’s “complex structure of companies is a sham”.
She said: “Google UK is not a back office support operation. These are clearly people who are paid a lot because they add value — selling advertising, closing deals and developing new products.”