Gibraltar : Interview with Mr. James Levy and Mr. Michael Castiel

Mr. James Levy and Mr. Michael Castiel

Partner and Senior Partner (Hassans Law)

Mr. James Levy and Mr. Michael Castiel
Hassans specializes in a wide range of services from taxation and insurance to property and finance, could you give us a percentage breakdown of your core services with respect to time spent and revenue generated?

Certainly, as far as international work is concerned, about 70% of our income and clients are international. I think that is a very crucial piece of information. In terms of the breakdown of the work itself, we have several different areas or categories, but our main areas are the financial services and corporate commercial practice, which is probably the biggest in the firm. In terms of income generated from the financial services and corporate commercial, it is about 30% corporate commercial and 70% financial services, which also involves private clients work such as managing the assets of very wealthy families from around the world.

How do you attract some of those high net worth individuals?

Mainly through personal contacts. It is crucial, the personal contacts, in the fact that they know you and they know what we do as a firm. However, getting into that market takes a long time.

Considering that the American IRS does not recognize a foreign trust as being “foreign” if the majority of the trustees are U.S. citizens or entities, are trusts something that you market to your American clients?

We have a fairly limited amount of American work, because American work is very specialised work. Therefore, we would only advise on the American structure if the client has his or her own specialized American tax advisor. Otherwise we would not really be involved. In terms of American corporate work, we have a lot because that type of work is less of a problem. The work that we normally do for big American corporation has to do with tax planning in Europe, for example when they restructure their operations in Europe.

What are some of the challenges the Gibraltar legal industry faces?

Many of the challenges relate to the position of Gibraltar as a EU jurisdiction. A lot of work is done in the big finance centers such as Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg because they cater to American operators through the use of European holding companies. Thus, what we do is try to facilitate those deals through Gibraltar in order to keep their taxes and duties down to the minimum when they come into Europe.

How might the recent EU ruling that essential phases out tax “exempt companies” affect your clients?

First of all, we believe that the government will manage to negotiate a system that will allow Gibraltar to continue and develop. Secondly, the type of business we do is not so dependant on having exempt companies, in the sense that we can also use local tax paid companies for a lot of our business, so we can continue to be a finance center. There will be a few months of uncertainty where perhaps we will have to be inventive and perhaps go the extra mile, but I would think that after a while the government will negotiate a position for Gibraltar which will allows it to continue as a legitimate financial center.

Why are you so confident that the government will be able to negotiate a positive outcome?

The arguments put forward by the EU commission, have no constitutional basis. Gibraltar is a separate constitutional entity from the U.K. and therefore the UK has no power to tax Gibraltar and therefore there should not be any questions of regional quality, in the sense that Gibraltar has its own taxes and laws. We are the only place in Europe, which is a colony of a member state that has its own powers of taxation.

Does the government ever use Hassans to assist in the drafting of legislation?

Currently, Hassans is working with our partners in the UK in drafting the regulatory legislation for the government with regards to online gaming, a sector of the economy, which has been growing significantly in the last five years. I believe it will be ready before the summer, possibly by the end of May. Hassans has worked with many of the online gaming firms, which have established themselves here in Gibraltar, so we are very familiar with their businesses and interests. I would say that we have between 75 and 80 percent of the locally based gaming companies as our clients.

What distinguishes Hassans from all the other law firms in Gibraltar?

First of all, we are much larger than the others. I believe we are three times larger than the next one down. Secondly, we are probably the only non-family firm in Gibraltar, where you have partners from outside the original family, which are my great uncle and I. Thirdly, we really are trying to become specialists in our departments. For example, Michael Castiel does not go to court. Michael is a very international structured lawyer and he is already well known internationally for having a particular expertise. Something that is relatively new is that we now have five qualified accountants in the firm and we have an ex-patriot department, so we are really trying to become an international firm with our specializations.

How long have you been with the firm, and what changes have you seen in that time?

I have been with the firm for 32 years now, and in that time we have progressed tremendously. Now, we have three offices and soon to have four, but we hope to soon consolidate everybody here and in the building that is been constructed next door. Currently, we have 160 people, of which 45-47 are lawyers.

Something that is wonderful now is that before we had to recruit English, Scottish and Irish lawyers and now we have a fantastic crop of Gibraltanian graduates, in every level. We are building up a tremendous team, which will take a little bit of time because some of them are young, but it is a growing team. We also now have two Spanish lawyers, which assist us tremendously when setting up companies in Spain.

If an American company wanted to set up here, what would you tell them are the greatest advantages of Gibraltar?

The first great advantage is the fact that we are within EU, however we are not subject to the VAT (value added tax) regime. Secondly, everything is much smaller and more flexible here, in terms of how things work, the facilities and with working and communicating with the authorities and the government. You can get things done much more quickly here.

Also, I believe that as Gibraltar continues to adhere to all the EU directives, that every day Gibraltar is being more recognized in the EU. We now have to play our part to make sure Gibraltar is integrated into the EU. I think the fact that Gibraltar continues to get more and more of the benefits of the EU, this will certainly help an American company set up here to conduct business in Europe.

What would be your final massage to the US News readers?

Gibraltar is a very regulated and credible finance centre in which to do legitimate international business.