US tax change targets HK rich

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 1996, 12:00am

A method used by a number of rich Hong Kong businessmen to distribute millions of dollars tax-free to their children who live in the United States is about to be stopped.

Immigrants to the US from wealthy foreign families not paying tax on distributions from foreign trusts are the targets of measures before the US Congress. The measures are likely to be enacted either late this year or early next year.

They are intended to stop the common practice among rich non-US individuals of putting assets into 'foreign grantor trusts' set up to minimise taxes and duties in the US and their home countries.

Foreign trust distributions to beneficiaries living in the US escape US taxation if properly structured.

It is believed the US measures are aimed largely at wealthy businessmen from Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, who commonly use this practice.

US tax laws deem that as long as the trust distributions are not US-sourced or US business income, they are not subject to US tax, an international tax partner at Price Waterhouse, Anthony Tong, said.

'Distributions out of the trusts are regarded as gifts from the businessman who sets them up to the beneficiaries,' he said.

'There is no gift tax if the assets gifted to these trusts are not US assets.' Another purpose in setting up such trusts - usually incorporated in tax havens such as Bermuda - was to provide protection from Hong Kong estate duty, as well as from US taxes, he said.

'Hong Kong businessmen use this quite often, because tax rates here are quite low,' Mr Tong said.

'In most other jurisdictions, the home country tax rates are quite high, and there is not the same incentive to avoid US tax.' Under the terms of the new US proposals, first set out in the US Foreign Trust Tax Compliance Act, that is all about to change.

Income in these trusts no longer will be viewed as being owned by the foreign grantor.

It will be viewed as being owned by the trust itself and therefore will be taxable to the trust beneficiaries upon distribution.