Last year, about $450 million belonging to top executives at billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson’s New York firm took a quick round trip to Bermuda.
In April, the executives sent the money to a reinsurance company that they’d set up on the island 650 miles off the North Carolina coast. By June, the Bermuda company, which has no employees and sells far less reinsurance than the industry norm, had sent all the cash back to New York, to be invested in Paulson & Co. funds.
By recycling the funds through Bermuda-based Pacre Ltd., the Paulson executives are positioned to legally exploit a little-known tax loophole, reduce their personal income taxes and delay paying the bill for years.
“These types of reinsurance companies are permitting U.S. taxpayers to defer -- indefinitely -- U.S. tax,” said David S. Miller, a tax lawyer at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP. For some, he said, it’s “an unjustified benefit.”
A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn.
Because reinsurers, which sell coverage to other insurers, manage large pools of capital, they’re a handy way to funnel a U.S. hedge fund investment through a tax haven.
At a time when the Obama administration and Congressional leaders of both parties are calling for a corporate tax overhaul that includes eliminating some loopholes, the reinsurance tax dodge is gaining popularity among hedge funds. The three new reinsurers backed by U.S. hedge fund managers put a combined $1.7 billion back into the managers’ hands.
Other top money managers, including some in London, are hiring advisers to explore setting up reinsurance companies in Bermuda, said Timothy Faries, an insurance lawyer at Appleby, one of the island’s largest law firms.
Fund managers are “trying to find a way to have a vehicle that can go offshore and avoid paying taxes,” said William Berkley, founder of W.R. Berkley Corp., a Greenwich, Connecticut-based insurer. “You have one company that does it and nobody pays attention. You now have four or five and it’s likely to get more people’s attention.”