- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Cyprus not tax haven

The ambassador of Cyprus is thankful for the quick action by members of Congress who spotted Cyprus on a list of tax havens in amendments to three House bills.

Ambassador Erato Kozakou Marcoullis praised Rep. Michael Bilirakis for "his timely actions on this matter."

The Florida Republican last week recruited 26 other House members to sign a letter to House Majority Leader Dick Armey to request he remove Cyprus from the list attached to the Homeland Security Act and to the defense and agriculture appropriations acts. The amendments would deny government contracts to American firms that reincorporate offshore to avoid U.S. taxes.

Mr. Bilirakis told Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, that Cyprus was included because of "inaccurate and outdated information." Cyprus used to tax offshore corporations at a much lower rate than other countries but has revised those laws to conform with the tougher standards of the European Union, which is considering Cyprus for membership.

Cyprus "has adopted stringent measures to prevent tax evasion," Mr. Bilirakis said in the letter. He noted that Cyprus recently signed a treaty with the United States, guaranteeing mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, including violations of tax laws.

Cyprus has "harmonized its tax structure with that of the EU" and adopted a unified corporate-tax rate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has included Cyprus on its "list of cooperating countries," Mr. Bilirakis said.

The ambassador, in a statement, also thanked Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, for helping Mr. Bilirakis circulate the letter.

Copies of the letter were also sent to all members of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, the defense appropriations subcommittee and to the chairmen and ranking members of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees.

The Lao opposition

Laotians opposed to the country's communist rulers will gather today with their congressional supporters for a public forum on Laos.

They will meet from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 2168 of the Rayburn House Office Building to mark the third anniversary of the October 1999 government crackdown on student pro-democracy demonstrations. One of their goals is to persuade Congress to continue denying normal trade relations to Laos.

"Given the present horrific situation in communist Laos, in terms of missing Lao student leaders and Hmong-Americans, as well as the deplorable level of religious persecution against Laotian believers, many people including surviving members of the Lao royal family are urging members of Congress to take a closer look at the situation in Laos and continue to deny NTR trade status to the regime," said Philip Smith, director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis.

Mr. Smith is one of the organizers of the forum that will include Sin Vilay of the Paris-based Royal Laos Foundation, which represents the deposed royal family.

Kat Dittavong, royal Laotian ambassador to Thailand in 1974-75, and Oudong Saysana of the Lao Students' Movement for Democracy will also speak. Mr. Saysana was among the students arrested in the 1999 demonstration.

The forum will also feature Kay Danes, an Australian woman who was held along with her husband, Kerry, in a Laotian prison for 11 months. She will describe the torture of other prisoners, which she witnessed. The Danes were working for a private security firm in Laos when arrested in December 2000. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer finally won their release.

Congressional supporters include Reps. Mark Green, Wisconsin Republican, Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, and California Republicans George P. Radanovich and Dana Rohrabacher.

The State Department's latest human rights report cites the Laotian government for widespread abuses.

"Prisoners are abused and tortured, and prison conditions generally are extremely harsh and life threatening.

"Lengthy pretrial detention and incommunicado detention are problems. The judiciary is subject to executive influence, is corrupt and does not ensure citizens' due process.

"The government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The government restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association."

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