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Lawrence Graham is involved in a widespread restructuring of offshore trusts owned by wealthy Central and South American individuals, following a crackdown on offshore tax evasion by their governments
The decision by Mexico and some South American countries to force their rich nationals with offshore trusts back onshore, where they will have to declare tax, has come as a big shock. Those with assets offshore are not seeking to avoid tax but win confidentiality. This is particularly important in South America where it is a full-time job for militias and small armies to extort the wealthy. For nominal bribes to state officials such gangsters can find out the rich list in a South American country. Most of Lawrence Graham's work is referred by American firms, mainly in Miami and New York. The firm acts predominantly for Canadian and European private banks whose offshore operations include investments by wealthy South Americans and Mexicans. Andrew Young, head of private client at Lawrence Graham, said the governments effectively want the offshore trusts to be broken up. However, the firm has devised ways of acting within the governments' legislation but which do not mean they have to declare their wealth in their native countries. He said: "We collapse the existing offshore structure and restructure in other ways. For instance, we can set up trusts in new jurisdictions, relocate the residents of the trusts, or place the assets in different holding structures, such as a Scottish partnership or a Singaporean or New Zealand limited company." The assets can also be placed in trusts in non-blacklisted jurisdictions, such as Switzerland or the UK, where there is tax exemption so long as certain conditions are met. It is rumoured that South America aims to enforce such blacklisting legislation. Mexico, which introduced this legislation about two years ago, used the US model, while Venezuela copied Mexico's legislation.