Details of how little income tax US billionaires pay have been leaked online.
News website ProPublica reportedly found tax returns of some of the world’s richest people, including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett.
The website alleges Amazon’s Mr Bezos paid no tax in 2007 and 2011, while Tesla’s Mr Musk paid nothing in 2018.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that “any unauthorised disclosure of confidential government information” is illegal, and that the FBI and tax authorities are investigating the matter.
ProPublica said it was analysing what it called a “vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data” on the taxes of the billionaires, and would release further details over coming weeks.
The alleged leak comes at a time of growing debate about the amount of tax paid by the wealthy and widening inequality.
ProPublica said the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax, an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income than most mainstream US workers.
Jesse Eisinger, senior reporter and editor at ProPublica, told the Today Programme: “We were pretty astonished that you could get it [tax] down to zero if you were a multi-billionaire. Actually paying zero in tax really floored us. Ultra-wealthy people can sidestep the system in an entirely legal way.”
The website reported that “using perfectly legal tax strategies, many of the uber-rich are able to shrink their federal tax bills to nothing or close to it” even as their wealth soared over the past few years.
The wealthy, as with many ordinary citizens, are able to reduce their income tax bills via such things as charitable donations and drawing money from investment income rather than wage income.
ProPublica, using data collected by Forbes magazine, said the wealth of the 25 richest Americans collectively jumped by $401 billion from 2014 to 2018, but only paid $13.6 billion in income tax over those years.
President Joe Biden has vowed to increase tax on the richest Americans as part of a mission to improve equality and raise money for his massive infrastructure investment programme.
He wants to raise the top rate of tax, double the tax on what high earners make from investments, and change inheritance tax.