Citigroup Avoided Paying $11.5 Billion In Taxes Thanks To Tax Shelters

By:  Ben Hallman

In 2008, Citigroup was an ailing financial giant on the verge of collapse, an event only averted, most economists agree, by a huge emergency infusion of taxpayer money.

Yet when it came time to share the spoils of its return to good fortune with the U.S. government, the bank was not so generous. Over the next four years, Citigroup aggressively moved to make use of shelters in order to shield its earnings from U.S. taxation, doubling the amount of money it held offshore, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit that advocates for corporate tax reform.

Citigroup is hardly alone in shifting profits to places like the Cayman Islands as a way to lower a tax bill. According to the report, 82 of the top 100 largest publicly traded companies as measured by revenue have set up such shelters -- 2,687 of them, to be exact. All told, they are holding nearly $1.2 trillion offshore.

But even among those that make frequent use of tax shelters, Citigroup is in a special class. The bank is one of 15 U.S. companies that are collectively responsible for two-thirds of this total, according to the report, which is called "Offshore Shell Games."

Citigroup has the ninth-most money parked offshore, the report found. (The top three companies, in terms of tax avoidance, are General Electric, Apple and Pfizer, which collectively held $263 billion offshore as of 2012.)

In 2012, Citigroup held $42 billion in such accounts. In total, Citigroup has avoided paying about $11.5 billion in taxes, according to the report. 

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