Fewer than 120,000 people call Kiribati home, but they apparently hold $682 million in Australian banks

There are 33 islands in Kiribati, a small nation in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Only 20 of them are inhabited.

Yet data released by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) revealed that $682 million in Australian bank accounts belonged to foreign tax residents apparently from Kiribati, up from just $14 million in 2019.

Less than 120,000 people call Kiribati home, and according to the Kiribati Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2019-2020, the median household income was just $12,000 in 2020.

The inhabitants of the country are also quite young: the median age of the population is 23 years old and 35% of the population is under 15 years old.

But the 876 Australian bank accounts apparently held by Kiribati residents had an average balance of nearly $800,000.

The typical income for Kiribati residents is around $12,000 per year.(ABC: Evan Wassuka)

Kiribati isn’t the only remote area where people, companies or trusts that hold Australian bank accounts apparently reside.

Tuvalu, with a 2020 population of 11,792, had 212 “resident” registered accounts holding $194 million in Australia.

This is an average of over $900,000 per account, while the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person in Tuvalu is around $7,500 per person.

Equatorial Guinea, in Central Africa, had 52 accounts registered with residents holding $4 million.

Individuals, trusts or companies in the once notorious secrecy jurisdictions of Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey hold $6.3 billion in accounts in Australia. On average, each of these accounts holds more than $1 million.

Profile photo of tax and social justice advocate Mark Zirnsak
Mark Zirnsak notes “red flags” for money laundering and tax evasion.(Provided: Uniting Church in Australia)

“The latest data on accounts held in Australia from overseas continue to raise red flags for money laundering and tax evasion,” according to Mark Zirnsak of the Tax Justice Network.

Jurisdictions like ‘Antarctica’ are usually flagged in error, ATO says

The data shows that assets from the uninhabited subantarctic Bouvet Island, Heard Island and McDonald Island are now gone, meaning there are no Australian bank accounts linked to places with penguins but no people.

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