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
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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs