US visits Cayman

Officials with the US Government Accountability Office will be in Cayman next week to review financial and tax reporting issues at the request of the US Congress.

Clearance for the US agency, a non-partisan arm of government that investigates various matters of public interest when asked to do so by congress, has been given by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

GAO officials are expected to meet with representatives from several government departments, including the Portfolio of Finance and the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. They are also expected to meet with the law firm Maples and Calder, which is the tenant of Ugland House.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said Thursday that US officials would be given full opportunity to obtain facts about Cayman’s regime, but he said the scope of their investigation would have limits.

‘The GAO has no law enforcement or regulatory power and therefore, no access to information at the level of detail afforded under the various international cooperation channels that exist between the Cayman Islands and the US,’ he said.

Ministers have previously criticised the GAO trip as an election year ploy.

The Cayman Islands financial sector has been a frequent target of US political candidates since last year, with politicians claiming that millions of dollars in tax payments are avoided by American companies who incorporate in the Cayman Islands.

US officials have argued that many of those companies have either minimal personnel staffing here, or none at all.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama perhaps most famously referred to Ugland House, the location where thousands of firms list their headquarters, as ‘either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record.’

Local government and officials in the financial sector have worked hard in the past 18 months to educate congressional members on what tax and financial accountability laws exist in the Cayman Islands. Those efforts have included lobbying trips to Washington D.C.

Mr. Tibbetts said government has been in discussions with the GAO about when their visit would occur and what information they would require. He said local officials maintain the highest confidence in the credentials of Cayman’s financial services sector.

‘The GAO visit is regarded as a unique opportunity to set the record straight,’ he said.

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