The Panama Papers British state behind tax havens

by Daphne Liddle

WORLD leaders, their relatives and best friends all around the globe have been revealed as hypocritical tax dodgers by the leaked Panama Papers, which hit the headlines last Monday.

Since then there have been new revelations every day from the leak of 11 million confidential documents from the files of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca of fortunes hidden away in tax haven around the globe by the rich, famous and not so famous to dodge paying taxes on their accumulating wealth.

Among those mentioned in the Panama Papers several Tory peers and former MPs. Footballer Lionel Messi and his dad, the Prime Minister of Iceland (who has since resigned), the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, the King of Saudi Arabia and President of Azerbaijan are named.

But on the first day, certain newspapers, including the Guardian and the Daily Mail focussed the whole story on just one world leader — Vladimir Putin — even though his name was not actually on the list of tax dodgers.

They featured Putin on the grounds that a member of his circle of friends was on the list and tried to damn him with guilt by association.

But their efforts to demonise him were soon overtaken by the revelations that our own Prime Minister’s father, Ian Cameron, who died in 2010, was on the list, having salted away a small fortune in a tax haven for the benefit of the family.

David Cameron came under heavy pressure from reporters to say whether this family fund was still there and still being used to dodge taxes. He was furious and declared: “That is a private matter.”

That is a response many fraudsters and con men are tempted to give when questioned about their financial affairs by HM Revenue and customs investigators but it won’t wash.

After a day of questions from the media about whether the prime minister’s family retains an interest in the fund, Downing Street took the unusual step of issuing a statement on Tuesday saying Mr Cameron, his wife and his children “do not benefit from any offshore trusts” — and Cameron said he had no shares or income from offshore trusts.

It followed a call from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for an independent inquiry into Britons linked to tax haven allegations — including Cameron’s family.

In its latest statement, issued on Wednesday, Downing Street told the BBC: “There are no off-shore trusts or funds from which the prime minister, Mrs Cameron or their children will benefit [in future].”

The statement did not address the issue of whether Cameron has previously benefitted from his late father’s investment fund.

People who dodge paying their taxes are effectively taking money away from government services which are suffering under relentless “austerity” cuts that would not be necessary if all these very rich people did pay their taxes.

But in Britain we have a very deep-seated problem. We have a revenue service that is ready to pursue small-time tax avoiders like self-employed builders but does not even try to pursue big businesses and the very rich. Their taxes are treated as negotiable and revenue officers are grateful if they agree to pay anything at all.

The Inland Revenue and Customs, over the last couple of decades, has sold off all the Crown Property buildings it used to own and now operates from buildings rented from offshore companies. Jersey-based CIHL Infrastructure Holdings owns the departments HQ and the 600 offices are owned by Bermuda-based Mapely Steps Limited.

Both companies have paid zero corporation tax in Britain for the last five or more years. It was also reported that despite having over 11,000 cases of tax avoidance and fraud on its books, the department has only managed five successful prosecutions in the last five years of individuals linked with offshore tax avoidance.

In other words the British state is deeply corrupt and implicated in this whole scandal . Further more nearly all the tax havens in question are British overseas territories, which are governed independently but are ultimately accountable to the Crown.

The British state is subverting tax collection from the very rich throughout the world and undermining not only our economy but many others. But of course foreign government leaders are not going to complain because too many of them are benefitting personally.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for these tax havens to be brought under direct rule from Westminster but that is the last thing the ruling class wants.