Times: Kent attracts new type of tourist: Europeans seeking easybankruptcy


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From The Times
September 23, 2009

Kent attracts new type of tourist: Europeans seeking easy bankruptcy
Helen Nugent

Tourists have come to Kent for its castles, where widowed queens lived
out their days and kings organised the defence of the realm of
England. They have come to see Canterbury Cathedral, founded by St
Augustine at the end of the 6th century, site of the murder of Thomas
à Becket.

Then there is the stately retreat where Winston Churchill brooded, the
house where Joseph Conrad wrote, the chalky white cliffs. There are
the oast houses, the ancient pubs, the crumbling Cinque Ports and a
ragged coastline of beach and marsh and “knolls where Norman churches
stand”.

To that formidable list of attractions may now be added another, which
is pulling in a different type of tourist from countries across
Europe. Kent is increasingly considered one of the finest places in
Europe to declare oneself bankrupt.

PHOTO:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00617/Financial-tourist_617679a.jpg
CAPTION:
Hans Schmidt moved to Kent from Germany over £150,000 credit card
debts

Among the indebted of Germany, Austria, France and Ireland, the
English insolvency laws look beautifully lenient. Insolvency experts
say that the number of foreign debtors seeking bankruptcy in Britain
has risen by 20 per cent, with Kent being a popular destination
because of its easy access to continental Europe.

Crippling insolvency laws in Germany mean that it takes between six
and nine years to escape debts after being made bankrupt. A bankrupt
in Ireland will normally remain an “undischarged bankrupt” for 12
years, maybe longer. However, in this country a bankruptcy can end in
as little as 12 months.

So to Kent, to pay a restorative visit to an insolvency agency and
make another trip to a court to file bankruptcy papers.

Observers are calling the phenomenon “bankruptcy tourism”. The
Insolvency Service confirmed that it had identified dozens of cases of
people from Europe filing for bankruptcy after appearing to have been
resident here for less than 12 months with all or most of the debts
being owed to creditors outside Britain.

One German debt expert based in Kent said that he was helping
management consultants, doctors, accountants, dentists and lawyers to
discharge their bankruptcy.

Marcus Kray, a director of the Erith-based Insolvenz Agentur, which
advises German and Austrians how best to take advantage of British
bankruptcy laws, said: “They come from all over the European Union.
They like the tax laws here as they are better than the ones in their
country.”

Mike Gerrard, a partner specialising in personal insolvency at Grant
Thornton, the chartered accountants, said: “As far as the law is
concerned, this [debt tourism] is a legitimate thing to do. However,
you could have a long and difficult argument about the ethics of it.”

In 2002, new European insolvency legislation came into force that made
cross-border bankruptcies between member states easier to complete.
The regulation covers personal as well as corporate insolvencies and,
in theory, allows individuals saddled with debt to “shop around” for
the most lenient bankruptcy jurisdiction within the Union.

Many foreign debtors live in Tunbridge Wells, a spa town with its fair
share of historic castles. Others go to Greenhithe, whose nearby
attractions include the not particularly historic Bluewater Shopping
Centre. Some have paid insolvency agencies up to £7,000 for their
resettlement.

Mr Kray, whose company promises to “get rid of the rest of your debts
in England after just 12 months”, said that he had helped a management
consultant with debts of £16 million to complete the bankruptcy
process. Many of his clients opted to stay in Britain after their
names had been cleared, he added.

“They come to us with problems. They may not have enough money to pay
their income tax, sometimes they are self-employed and their clients
haven’t paid their bills. They come from all over the EU. Given the
economic climate, we have 20 per cent more than normal. We now have
about 150 clients a year.”

Under the current system, there is no minimum time limit for a foreign
national to be resident and “economically active” in England and Wales
before petitioning for bankruptcy. However, the Government closely
scrutinises applications from people who have been resident for less
than 12 months. Being economically active includes being employed or
having a source of income, owning a bank account, having a national
insurance number or paying rent.

More than 60,000 people in England and Wales were made bankrupt in the
past financial year. The Insolvency Service says that foreign
nationals account for only a small percentage of this figure.

A spokeswoman said: “The service examines the affairs of recently
relocated foreign nationals very closely, and, if there is evidence
that the order ought not to have been made in the courts of England
and Wales, will report the matter back to the court with a view to
having the bankruptcy order cancelled.”

Wish you were here?

Switzerland: low taxes Almost a third of global wealth kept in
offshore accounts is thought to be in Swiss banks. Tax regimes can be
very amenable to rich incomers.

Liechtenstein: capped fines The British Government and Liechtenstein
have agreed a ground-breaking deal under which Britons who came clean
on their previously undeclared accounts would face fines capped at 10
per cent of the total tax that they had evaded over the past decade.
Spain: housing hotspot Under Spanish planning law, town halls issue
building licences, but a clampdown in Andalusia could lead to some
British expatriates losing their homes, having bought illegally-built
property in good faith.

England: libel tourism Powerful litigants from all over the world go
to London to lodge libel suits, with defendants deemed guilty until
found innocent.

Liberia, Panama and the Bahamas: flags of convenience More than half
the world’s merchant ships are thought to be registered under a flag
of convenience or open registry, a process under which a vessel is
registered in a foreign country to reduce operating costs or avoid
government regulations.


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6845136.ece
 

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