Thursday, 3 January 2013

Facebook, Zynga, The Cayman Islands and Ireland. Another great day for ethics.



On foot of my blog about the ongoing tax avoidance issues yesterday (which follows below), I was amazed to read the very brilliant Colm Keena's story in today's Irish Times newspaper - http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2013/0102/1224328327411.html

I'm actually getting tired of blogging about what has become a tax avoidance issue but for some reason, the information just keeps coming to me. There's that much of it about. Shocking.

So it was interesting to see changes at Facebook and Zynga's Irish operation. I'm sure they're completely unrelated to the tax avoidance issue.....

Colm reports that Facebook are moving all its non-US revenues to a new Irish subsidiary. 

Facebook Payments International Limited, a new Irish company, will now take on the billing from Facebook Ireland Limited, which showed revenue of 1 billion euro in 2011 - up from 229 million in 2010.

What's interesting too is that it lost 18.7 million on that revenue of 1 billion and why you might ask?  Because largely, of payments it made to its parent Facebook Ireland Holdings Limited owned by Facebook entities in the Cayman Islands.

These are exactly the same type of controversial charges by parent companies to create losses (and thereby, meaning they pay little or no tax) and are very similar to the devices used by Starbucks and others - so highly criticised. 

What's also stunning is that Facebook has a registered company in The Cayman Islands ultimately - one of the great tax shelters of our time after Ireland. Interesting still, is that it's an unlimited company, meaning it can avoid prying eyes from journalists and not be subject to the usual company rigours.

Which is really quite shocking for a PLc.
In fact the whole thing just stinks.

One of the ways Facebook generates these revenues is by way of "game credits" from gaming company Zynga.

And it would seem, Znyga is another Irish company success! 

Zynga Game Ireland Limited (I kid you not) reported a pre-tax profit of a meagre 4.8 million on revenues of 369 million. This small, poor profit is because of.... yes you've guessed it.... payments to other Zynga companies.

Exactly as Facebook/Starbucks and them all, are accused of, in order to avoid tax. By making payments to parent companies elsewhere, they avoid tax when those payments either exceed the income or practically wipe out any profit.

So for example, of that 369 million revenue, a stunning 191 million for example, was paid in "royalties" to another Zynga company with registered offices at Solicitors in Dublin. 

That very company in turn, despite revenues of 191 million and no employees, reported a loss of 35 million! Get the pattern? Because....wait for it....it paid 50 million to its parent company in "royalties" and a further contribution of 174 million in R&D which is 224 million paid out after only generating 191 million.

Funny too that only in November, Znyga's finance chief, David Wehner, left to join...Facebook as vice-president of corporate finance. Doesn't surprise me anyway....

Avoiding tax isn't illegal, just immoral.

And it seems it's widespread. In fact with Google, Facebook, Zynga, Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft all getting a mention already and so many previously "respected" names, it's hard to imagine that it's just not common practice.

However, it would seem that a lot of other companies with a lot of advisers, are involved in this style of doing business despite being sheltered by an appearance of integrity. On the scale of billions, which these activities are, would require the active involvement of a myriad of professionals.

And yet again, they all have one thing in common, one thing that's bringing these stories to light.

Ireland.