Kiribati kid on a swing

Fewer than 120,000 people inhabit Kiribati yet they apparently hold $682m in Australian banks

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

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

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

The nation’s residents are also quite young: the median age of the population is 23 and 35 per cent of the population is under 15 years old.

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

Kiribati is not the only remote area where people, companies or trusts that hold Australian bank accounts apparently reside.

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

That is an average of more than $900,000 per account, when the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person in Tuvalu is around $7,500 per person.

Equatorial Guinea, in central Africa, had 52 accounts registered’ to residents holding $4 million.

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

Mark Zirnsak notes ‘red flags’ for money laundering and tax evasion.(Supplied: Uniting Church in Australia)

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

Jurisdictions like ‘Antarctica’ generally reported by mistake, says ATO

The data shows that holdings from uninhabited subantarctic Bouvet Island, Heard Island and McDonald Island have now disappeared, which means there are no Australian bank accounts linked to places with penguins but no people.