Danish pension schemes defend use of Cayman Islands funds
PFA, Sampension and other Danish pension funds have defended themselves against reports that they have been avoiding tax by investing in funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.
A television documentary on Denmark’s national broadcaster DR on Tuesday and a report in national broadsheet Politiken today have both named Danish pension funds as having investments in tax havens.
The reports follow the recent large-scale leak of tax-related documents – known as the “Paradise Papers” – implicating wealthy individuals and companies in tax avoidance practices.
Politiken today reported that 16 out of 17 Danish pension companies it surveyed said they invested in a number of countries that are seen as tax havens. The paper singled out PFA, saying it had gone one step further and also set up its own fund in one such jurisdiction.
PFA said it had set up the Midgard investment fund in 2009 but its choice of the Cayman Islands as the fund’s domicile had nothing to do with “aggressive tax speculation”.
PFA said: “Tax was paid in relation to prevailing Danish and international legislation. The reason it was placed in the Cayman Islands at the time was that the fund was also intended for international investors, and the Cayman Islands had an investment set up that international investors can easily adapt to their business.”
The Midgard fund had since moved to Luxembourg, it added.
Lærernes Pension, the Danish pension fund for teachers, said it had money in a forestry fund registered in the Cayman Islands, but that investing pension money in this fund was not the same as investing it in a tax haven.
“This is because we pay tax, both where the investment takes place and in Denmark,” it said. In relation to this investment fund, Lærernes Pension said it paid 19% in corporation tax in Indonesia as well as Danish pensions returns tax (PAL).
“We think everyone – big and small – has to pay the taxes that the law requires, and if the law is too slack, politicians and international organisations should tackle this,” the fund said.
Sampension said it also invested in the same fund, which backs sustainable forestry activity in three south-east Asian countries. It operates in conjunction with the Danish state investment fund IFU and several pension funds in Denmark and other countries, along with other investors.
“The fund has been established [in] the Cayman Islands solely for practical reasons, to bring a range of investors together for investment in several different countries,” the pension fund said.
Henrik Olejasz Larsen, CIO at Sampension, said the company did not participate in structures that aimed to avoid paying taxes in Denmark or the country where the economic activity took place.
“As a pensions company, we gain no tax advantage from choosing to go with the state-owned development fund IFU and invest in funds in so-called tax havens,” he said.
In response to the media reports, the Danish pensions and insurance association Forsikring & Pension (F&P) said that, since 2015, Denmark has had tax information sharing agreements in place with all jurisdictions that were previously deemed to be tax havens.
Karsten Beltoft, deputy director at F&P, said: “Pension companies of course do everything they can to make sure they always pay the tax they should – both in Denmark and in the countries they invest in.
“But realistically, no one can claim to have perfect knowledge about what ultimately happens regarding payments in third-party countries.”
However, MP Pension’s chief executive Jens Munch Holst said his pension fund would use the media reporting as a prompt to take another look at its guidelines.
“MP Pension does not approve of tax evasion, of course, however, our guidelines for responsible investments have not specifically focused on tax havens,” he said. “Politiken’s investigation has given us cause to revisit our guidelines.”
Separately, in New Zealand, the managers of the country’s NZD36.4bn (€21.7bn) NZ Super Fund confirmed that it had previously used Appleby, the law firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers document release.
The firm had been used to help with local Bermudan law advice in respect of certain investments, the Guardians of NZ Super said.
However, the manager said it was confident there would be “no negative commercial implications” for the fund from the potential security breach of the Guardians’ documents.
“The use of collective investment funds domiciled in locations such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands is legal, common and widely considered best practice portfolio management,” the manager said.
“The collective investment fund provides a tax-neutral jurisdiction to ensure its collective income does not pay a second layer of foreign tax in relation to income on which all applicable taxes have already been paid at source.”