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U.S. billionaire chooses to build new life in Singapore

Published: Fri, May 18, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

For a few short years, Eduardo Saverin was an American success story. The young man came here with his already wealthy family from Brazil, settled in Miami, attended prep school and then Harvard University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 2006. It was a degree he would never need to make a living; he was already on the way to being a billionaire as one of the four founders of Facebook.

Today is a big day in the history of Facebook, the social network that is expected to increase its total value to about $100 billion through an IPO of 421 million shares for public purchase.

But Saverin won’t be in Cambridge or New York or Miami or anywhere else in the United States to celebrate. Saverin will be in Singapore, where he has been since 2009. And if a couple of U.S. senators have their way, Saverin will never visit Cambridge or New York or Miami or anywhere else in the United States ever again.

That’s because Saverin, 30, has renounced his U.S. citizenship in a move that may have been designed to insulate him from future capital gains taxes on his Facebook holdings — worth about $4 billion now — and any other U.S. investments he may hold.

After the story broke recently, Saverin responded to the criticism — more accurately disdain — to which he was being subjected by denying any attempt to avoid taxation. Indeed, a spokesman said that Saverin is subject to millions of dollars in tax liability under a law covering citizens who renounce their citizenship.

“Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” Tom Goodman, Saverin’s spokesman, told Bloomberg News.

Senators respond

Saverin’s intentions — good or bad — notwithstanding, two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have proposed the Ex-PATRIOT Act, a bill that should at least get an award in the creative acronym category, standing as it does for the phrase, “Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy” Act.

The bill would establish a 30 percent tax on future capital gains on anyone determined by the IRS to have left the country for tax purposes. It would also bar them from re-entering the United States.

We don’t know that such a law will actually stop anyone from leaving, but on its face it seems fair. Saverin is no doubt an intelligent and hardworking young billionaire, but he is a billionaire in large part by virtue of the opportunities that were made available to him in the United States.

If he believes the grass is greener in Singapore, he’s welcome to stay there. Or go anywhere else outside the United States that he may choose. But he can’t come “home” again.

We wouldn’t wish ill on him, but if he’s ever in a foreign land and gets into a spot where he could use the influence of the American consulate, we hope there’s at least a moment when he questions whether becoming a man without a country was such a smart more.

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