An explosive data leak – one of the largest of its kind, containing more than 13m documents – showed the extent of tax avoidance among the world’s elite, including powerful and influential people in the UK.
Even the Queen was found to be linked to the scandal, as the Paradise Papers, as the leak is called, revealed that her financial advisers invested £10m in offshore tax havens.
Lord Ashcroft – a major funder of the Tories, who’s donated £10m to the party in recent years – was also implicated. The Papers showed he ferreted away more than £300m in a secret offshore trust.
Despite living in the UK, Ashcroft, the Papers suggest, maintains his domicile for tax purposes in Belize and may have done so even when he was a Tory peer from 2000 to 2015.
Labour has called for a full public inquiry into tax avoidance following the publication of the Paradise Papers – something prime minister Theresa May has so far refused to do. She has also refused to establish a public register on offshore companies.
Labour has also called on the tax office to investigate the Tory donor Ashcroft, who fled from a BBC Panorama reporter who followed him at the last Tory Party Conference demanding answers to the secret trust.
Ashcroft escaped, dodging into a toilet.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who has long been an outspoken critic of tax avoidance – which is legal – and tax evasion, which is against the law, demanded the government intervene.
“Taxpayers will be furious at the efforts of the super-rich and their advisors, including the Queen’s, go to dodge paying their fair share of tax,” he said.
“These tax avoidance schemes may be legal, but there is deep anger and disgust about the ‘them and us’ attitude to paying tax revealed in the ‘Paradise Papers’.
“The prime minister’s refusal to commit to introducing a public register of who owns offshore companies and trusts in British tax havens or to opening a public inquiry into tax avoidance is to be strongly deplored.
“Those struggling to put food on the table for their families and to pay their mortgages and rents are expected to pay every penny of tax on the dot, but there is a parallel financial universe for the global elite, using fancy accounting instruments and legal wheezes, to protect their mountains of cash from the taxman,” McCluskey added.
“Money clawed back from tax avoidance schemes could pay for much needed new schools, a massive cash injection in the NHS and public investment in house building and infrastructure projects.”
Labour inquiry call
Indeed, the Labour Party calculated that the money saved from tax avoidance schemes would be enough to give £350m to the NHS each and every week for 16 years.
“Labour shows that the UK government could make a difference today if it wanted to,” McCluskey went on to say.
“Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is spot on to call for a full public inquiry into tax avoidance and for a full register into all companies and trusts. There needs to be much greater transparency and scrutiny.
“The government should refuse public contracts to tax avoiders – it is the government’s duty to use public money responsibly, and lining the pockets of tax dodgers is not doing so.
“The tax avoidance industry that secretes the billions of the tax dodging elite needs to be outlawed,” he argued.
“Tax avoidance is as immoral as tax evasion. If you want to trade, work or live in the UK, then the message is simple – pay your proper share of taxes.
McCluskey said tax avoidance is a global problem that “needs concerted international action”.
But he added that there was nothing to stop Theresa May’s government “taking the lead on this with robust proposals – and the budget on 22 November would be a good place to start.”
Another person implicated in the Paradise Papers was the US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, a close ally of President Donald Trump. The leaked documents revealed that Ross’s business interests are connected to Russian companies with close ties to the Kremlin.
Ross is now visiting the UK and was slammed by Unite for not giving Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland assurances amid a trade row between Bombardier and Boeing.
Ross’ Department of Commerce moved to slap a 300 per cent tariff on Bombardier’s C-Series jet over the last two months for allegedly benefiting from state aid from the Canadian government and Invest NI.
Ross said it was possible that the Commerce Department’s decision could be overturned in February, but Unite said the commerce secretary should step up and meet with the Northern Ireland workers whose livelihoods are now threatened.
“What’s needed is for the US government to rescind the punitive tariffs on the C Series entirely,” said Unite regional coordinating officer for Northern Ireland Davy Thompson. “They are designed to effectively shut the US market, the largest commercial airlines market in the world, to Bombardier’s ground-breaking C Series planes.
“Boeing’s case against Bombardier is entirely unmerited – they suffered no losses from the Delta airlines purchase at the heart of their allegation since they did not even have a bid competing for that contract,” he added.
“If Wilbur Ross is genuine in his concern for Northern Ireland workers he should make the time available to meet with their representatives in the course of the next five days he is in London,” Thompson noted. “Unite is ready to meet with him at his convenience.”