WEDNESDAY, JULY 11: A huge row in the US over would-be president Mitt Romney’s family investments in Bermuda has dented the island’s image, a leading businessman said yesterday.
Ronnie Viera, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the controversy “causes unnecessary and unwarranted attention at a time when we can least afford it”.
The spotlight turned on Bermuda after it emerged that Mr Romney, who is set to be the Republican candidate in November’s presidential election, has offshore accounts, including a shell company in Bermuda.
He also has business interests in the Caymans and Switzerland.
The Bermuda-based Santaky High Yield Assets Investors, which recently posted earning of nearly $2 million and was transferred to his wife’s name in 2003, did not appear on Mr Romney’s disclosure forms until he released his 2010 tax returns during the Republican presidential primaries.
Now the island has once again has been branded a “tax haven” as Democrats turn the heat up on the multi-millionaire businessman from Massachusetts.
Robert Gibbs, senior adviser for the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama and speaking on CNN, said: “This is a guy whose slogan is ‘Believe in America’ and it should be ‘Business in Bermuda’.
And Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told the Huffington Post: “He bet against America when he put his money in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens and shelters and also set up a secret company, the shell company in Bermuda, which, by the way, in order to avoid disclosure, he put in his wife’s name right before he became Governor of Massachussetts.”
Ronnie Viera, president of the Chamber of Commerce, told us: “.
“The misrepresentation of the situation is concerning and detrimental to the island.
“Bermuda has a number of different areas where we attract foreign investment — the area which is most beneficial to us is insurance and reinsurance.
“When issues like this are politicized and misrepresented it gives a false impression of Bermuda.
“This is all wrapped up in things like our tax benefits – our services or status, if you can call it that. Personal investment overseas causes confusion in the US and gives us a bad name.
“We have legitimate foreign investment here and it is a low tax jurisdiction — not a ‘tax haven’.”
A spokeswoman for Finance Minister and Premier Paula Cox played down the controversy as US pre-election politicking.
The spokeswoman said: “While a Bermuda company or companies may be connected to one of the candidates, most observers understand the US presidential electoral process displays itself every four years.”
The Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) — which polices offshore business — declined to comment on the grounds it was “a political issue”.
But the BMA website says: “The BMA is committed to providing open, transparent regulatory frameworks and requirements, which are consistent with international best practice, and to applying and enforcing these requirements sensibly and consistently in a firm but fair manner.”
Association of Bermuda International Business executive director Richard Winchell also declined to comment on the controversy.
Supporters of Mr Obama have queued up to be interviewed in the US media, criticizing Mr Romney’s overseas investments – although all have stopped short of accusing him of doing anything illegal.
Mr Romney has also declared business interests in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.
Ben LaBolt, national press secretary for President Obama, posted a web advert last weekend attacking Mr Romney’s financial arrangements, said by the Associated Press to include Santaky, which was transferred to a blind trust in his wife’s name the day before he became governor of Massachusetts in 2003.
Mr LaBolt said: “This is crazy — it isn’t too much to ask that a candidate for president explains why he chose to invest in other countries known as tax havens rather than the United States.”
Democrats have challenged Mr Romney to disclose tax returns further back than the two years already released to the public.
Step-by-step: This BMA chart shows how a company is established in Bermuda. *Graphic courtesy of the Bermuda Monetary Authority