Monday, 20 May 2013

Lies, damned lies and George Osborne


Anytime you hear Osborne pontificating about closing in on tax evasion, bear in mind that he is talking complete bullshit. As Private Eye pointed out in a couple of small pieces in their recent edition, it is what he does – not what he says – that matters.

‘“The message is simple. If you evade tax, we’re coming after you.” So thundered George Osborne last week as HM Revenue and Customs confirmed it was examining a wealth of leaked tax data. 

The data demonstrated ‘the use of companies and trusts in a number of territories around the world including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.’ So how do tax dodgers come to use BVI companies and the like to shield assets? By employing the services of British banks like HSBC is one way. 

The Eye has repeatedly pointed out HSBC’s involvement in tax evasion services and three months ago told how a tax dodging HSBC client was sent to London where a special unit in HSBC’s private banking arm set up BVI companies for him to hide his money in Swiss HSBC accounts (Eyes 1333 and 1334). On the back of these services HSBC Private Bank Ltd’s chairman reported that ‘excellent teamwork with HSBC’s retail banking operation in the UK, Asia, the UAE and the Americas led to a significant increase in  client referrals from these locations.’ And who was the proud chairman presiding over blatantly criminal tax evasion? Step forward the Reverend Lord (Stephen) Green, now trade minister in David Cameron’s government and unlikely to find Osborne “coming after” him.’

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ActionAid Survey

“Under Green HSBC also ran a huge network of its own offshore subsidiaries, a survey from charity ActionAid this weekend showing it to have 496 such companies. As readers of Eye 1336 will recall, it had set aside £3bn for an HMRC inquiry into its offshore avoidance but settled the dispute last year for no more than £200m. 

Among the other big tax haven users identified was Tesco, whose Ireland-Luxembourg-Hungary-Switzerland scheme, centred on a company called Cheshunt Overseas LLP and exposed by the Eye in 2008, is still very much alive and kicking according to recently filed accounts.

More importantly, such arrangements have been enshrined in statute by George Osborne and will only ever now be taxed at between 0 and 5%. His response to ActionAid’s survey at last weekend’s G7 was that it is ‘incredibly important that the tax that is due’ but he failed to add that, through offshore tax breaks, he is slashing the tax due from Britain’s biggest multinationals.” (my emphasis)

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