The Paradise Papers leak: What does it mean?

Paradise papers
Philip Fisher
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Oh dear. We are off again. Just when you thought that the world of tax was beginning to shed its murky reputation, The Guardian and various equivalents across the globe have dropped another bombshell. 

Whereas in the past, most of the dodgy dealings in offshore tax havens seemed to be associated with either the naive or those that did not seem overly concerned about reputational risk, the ironically nicknamed Paradise Papers, hacked from the Appleby law firm in Bermuda and other offshore territories, are something else. 

To discover that the Duchy of Lancaster, effectively the Queen’s business and investment arm has allegedly put her money into a tax haven will come as a shock to everybody, almost certainly including Her Majesty. If you have a unique exemption from tax then why on earth would you want to put cash into something that looks dodgy with only one apparent advantage – the ability to reduce your tax liabilities? Heads could roll, possibly literally given the powers of the crown. 

Lord Ashcroft’s alleged involvement to the tune of £450m might come as less of a surprise, given his past track record. If nothing else, it might cause enough of an uproar about non-dom status to present the government with a heaven-sent opportunity to restrict this even further. 

Intellectually, it is very difficult to understand why non-doms should get preferential tax treatment in the UK when they don’t in many other countries. 

It isn’t just the British that have found themselves in the spotlight on this occasion. If the revelations are accurate, it appears that a significant number of President Trump’s closest associates have also taken the opportunity to invest in arrangements set up by Appleby, including arrangements that apparently tie in with Russian political bigwigs. 

Readers will have been interested to note the statement in the Guardian that “Appleby prides itself on being a leading member of the “magic circle” of top-ranking offshore service providers”. One trusts that the firm knew exactly what it was doing and will be able to maintain that reputation when the full import of these revelations, based on almost 13½ million leaked documents, is understood. 

Just reading the headlines, others who may end up with egg on their collective face if the allegations are true include Twitter, Facebook, Nike and Apple, along with some of the biggest names in the film and TV industries and the owners of two Premier league football clubs. 

The conclusion that the Guardian reaches is that when it comes to tax there was one law for the rich and another for the poor. Many in the profession might believe that there is nothing wrong with this. However, eventually the goose that laid the golden egg might be slaughtered if the populace decides that it is unfair for the rich and powerful to pay tax at little more than 1% or 2%, while they are committed to levels that vary between 20% and 45% (in reality considerably higher in this country once slightly less obvious factors such as NIC and VAT are included). 

Perhaps the saddest indictment of the tax avoidance and (it seems highly likely in this case) evasion industry is a statement that I understand has been made from Bermuda using the old adage that if we didn’t do it someone else would. Some of the most vindictive totalitarian genocides have been facilitated by those using exactly the same logic. 

As with all of its predecessors, this story will run and run. If nothing else, it might divert a little attention from the equally unsavoury sleaze scandals that have dominated the media over the last few days.

About Philip Fisher


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06th Nov 2017 09:36

And, of course, the same as with previous leaks, the Government will wax lyrical about making changes to prevent abusive arrangements, and then do diddly squat.

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06th Nov 2017 09:49

I note that this morning the BBC wheeled out the redoubtable Margaret Hodge who promptly lumped tax avoidance with tax evasion. The Beeb itself while at pains to point out that avoidance is "not a crime", then mixed the two issues - their reporter last night was at pains to say how careful they would have to be outside the HQ of Appleby in Bermuda even before the papers leak became known....Good tv maybe, but rubbish truth.
Surely if avoidance is no crime and the Duchy has complied with all UK tax legislation then where and how it invests is no one else's business?
I'm off to avoid tax by not working my full 7 hours today!

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to memyself-eye
06th Nov 2017 14:59

memyself-eye wrote:

I note that this morning the BBC wheeled out the redoubtable Margaret Hodge who promptly lumped tax avoidance with tax evasion.

The redoubtable Margaret Hodge, whose family company was run through a Liechtenstein trust? That redoubtable Margaret Hodge?

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06th Nov 2017 10:55

I've just looked at this.

This is yet another complete non-story on non-tax avoidance and/or non-tax evasion (as far as the Queen is concerned at least) dressed up as something highly dodgy.

I would love to do an exposé documentary on these rubbish tax avoidance/evasion documentaries to explain the garbage they peddle. (In the old days Richard Murphy would be wheeled out to denounce this sort of thing and then you would know for sure it was total garbage.)

[Edit] I just found this on BBC website re Queen:

"Royal money

The Paradise Papers show that about £10m ($13m) of the Queen's private money was invested offshore. It was put into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda by the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the Queen with an income and handles investments for her £500m private estate.There is nothing illegal in the investments and no suggestion that the Queen is not paying tax, but questions may be asked about whether the monarch should be investing in offshore finance."

In other words, the BBC confirm there is nothing dodgy about the Queen re tax and that they basically do not know what they are talking about. What a joke! They have (effectively by their own admission above) created a witch hunt (re lack of NHS funding etc.) out of thin air!

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06th Nov 2017 11:51

Round two is tonight and I believe, focuses on 'celebs' being paid via various 'dodgy' schemes. Let's hope it has more credibility than last night's rubbish.
The great joke is that the UK has dominion over more tax havens than any other country

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06th Nov 2017 13:11

I just found this list of offshore tax avoidance investment funds on HMRC's website:

Why has the Grauniad, BBC, Margaret Hodge et al not spotted that I wonder?

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06th Nov 2017 13:49

i guess the question is then why do people put money into offshore accounts - if its not to avoid tax what is it doing....especially in a small island with a few inhabitants. Are we to believe they contain more knowledgeable investors than those in the London financial district or bigger more secure banks....hmmm...

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to justsotax
06th Nov 2017 14:51

I'll give you one example of very many reasons (that are all perfectly sensible and legal tax prevention planning). You would be a complete idiot if you are a Dubai, Hong Kong etc. resident investor in UK commercial property if you invested via a UK Ltd rather than a Jersey etc. Ltd with local directors.

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to Justin Bryant
07th Nov 2017 10:02

what you mean avoiding paying uk tax on earnings from a property sited in the UK benefitting from the UK economy (for what it is worth). Yes I can see why someone would seek to avoid those charges....that said if we are happy with that then we can't really complain about Apple/Starbucks/Bono etc

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06th Nov 2017 15:05

In most cases, documentaries like these are designed to shock, titillate and provoke the usual dog-whistle reaction from a press and public who don't really understand the issues involved.

Not seeing anything from this one that's any different. If the documentary makers have evidence of illegality, it needs to be handed over to the relevant authorities. I suspect they don't though.

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06th Nov 2017 15:49

If the rich and powerful drew up a law to say it's fine to go out and shoot peasants would you all be chirping that it was fine when they did start shooting peasants ?
Just because current laws permit such tax avoidance doesn't make it morally right.

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to gerrysims
06th Nov 2017 16:33

I agree.

My issue with this is that they have the financial means to be able to pocket all of this money, using legal loopholes, whilst others that are struggling to make ends meet will see no benefit of this at all, other than wealthy people getting richer and those on the lower end in more and more debt, probably to said wealthy.

Legal? Of course.

Moral? Very questionable.

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06th Nov 2017 19:40

since when did morality have anything to do with tax?
If Her Majesty's government doesn't approve, they have the power to legislate.
No doubt the tax loss elsewhere would outweigh any perceived savings....

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