News / USA

Expatriation of Facebook Co-founder Draws Ire

Two workers inside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CalifTwo workers inside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif
x
Two workers inside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif
Two workers inside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who is set to earn billions when the social networking giant goes public on the U.S. stock market Friday, has drawn criticism for renouncing his U.S. citizenship in a move that could save him millions in taxes. The Singapore resident still will end up paying fees, but experts say the benefits of expatriation for Saverin, and many others, may outweigh the costs.


Saverin’s stake in the company is estimated at nearly $4 billion. As a U.S. citizen, he would have been subject to a capital gains tax of about 15 percent, or $600 million.


By giving up his U.S. passport, he’ll avoid that fee, but that doesn’t mean he won’t pay any taxes in what will be the biggest initial public offering of an Internet company in history.

Saverin, and every other income earner who renounces their U.S. citizenship, is subject to an exit tax on all of the assets he owned before expatriating. Just how much he’ll pay is up for debate, according to Michael Graetz, a tax professor at Columbia University in New York.

“The question is when his renunciation of citizenship is effective, and what was the value of that stock at that time. He renounced his citizenship in September, and so he’ll claim that the value was significantly less than the value of the stock on the open market because he had such a large block of stock that he couldn’t have sold it privately,” Graetz explained.

Saverin likely will battle out the valuation of his stock with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. That court battle apparently is worth it to Saverin in the long-run. His spokesman, Tom Goodman, says the billionaire has found it more “practical” to become a resident of Singapore, which doesn’t have a capital gains tax.

Goodman said the move to Singapore was not to avoid taxes.

“He has invested in Asian, U.S. and European companies. He also plans to invest in Brazilian and global companies that have strong interests in entering the Asian markets.  Accordingly, it made the most sense for him to use Singapore as a home base,” he said in a press statement.

The countries where those companies are based could charge some withholding taxes, but Saverin is not obligated to pay taxes to Singapore for income earned overseas. The Brazilian-born businessman won’t be paying taxes in his home country, either. The United States is the only major economy that taxes its citizens, wherever they are in the world, not just its residents - a practice that began to raise money during the American Civil War of the 19th century.

Saverin’s story, now made infamous by the Oscar-winning film The Social Network, is the stuff of American dreams. The son of a wealthy Brazilian businessman, he moved to the United States as a child to escape the threat of being kidnapped for ransom. Saverin became a U.S. citizen, and attended Harvard University, where he and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg hammered out plans for what would become the most popular social networking site in the world.

A falling out with Zuckerberg lead to his removal from Facebook in 2005, which sparked a major legal battle that resulted in him owning about four-percent of the company.

His decision to leave the U.S. has stirred ire from critics like tech blogger David Gewirtz, who slammed Saverin for how he “played the system.”

“Going so far as to renounce the incredible gift of citizenship we gave to this man, and by doing so, saved him from kidnap gangs in his native country, that’s below reprehensible,” he wrote on his blog, ZDNet Government. “Justice would be to take away his stock benefits if he renounces his citizenship. Justice would be to block him from raking in all that cash if he’s not willing to pay his fair share.”

Saverin’s move is not against the law. He is committing tax avoidance, not tax evasion, according to Reuven Avi-Yonah, the director of the University of Michigan’s International Tax Program.

“It’s clearly legal. Congress passed this law in 2008, that said that if you are a U.S. citizen living overseas, you are permitted to relinquish your citizenship and pay an exit tax,” he said.

Before there was an exit tax, Avi-Yonah says expatriates had a prolonged financial commitment to the U.S.

“You had to continue to pay taxes if you were a U.S. citizen for 10 years, unless you could prove to the U.S. that the reason you expatriated was not because of taxes. And low and behold, everybody was able to prove that they expatriated not because of taxes but for some other reason,” he said.

Avi-Yonah says before the law was passed, people felt it was unpatriotic to renounce, but now it’s just a matter of calculating the price.

“Congress put a price on it, and if the price is good enough, then you pay the price,” he said.

Saverin is among 1,780 people who renounced their U.S. citizenship in 2011, a massive jump from the 235 who expatriated in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Whether that number climbs, Avi-Yonah says, is not just a matter of money. Living in the U.S. is pretty desirable, he says, and even those who want to live outside the country still value a U.S. passport.

It’s a connection you can’t get online.

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid