“Tories resisting efforts to allow scrutiny of secretive trusts, says Labour”

“The UK government has been accused of thwarting Europe-wide efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism by resisting measures to open secretive trusts to public scrutiny.

Under Europe’s fifth anti-money laundering directive, which comes into force next year, member states are supposed to give those with a “legitimate interest” a right to know what assets are owned by trusts and who the beneficiaries are. The Treasury is currently consulting on how it will implement the directive.

Labour says the government’s proposals, published this month, are “extremely restrictive” and will block enquiries by those who should have access to the data, such as journalists, campaigners and the victims of fraud.

Shadow Treasury minister Anneliese Dodds wrote to Philip Hammond on Thursday to urge a rethink. “Investigative journalists have done great work uncovering corruption,” she told the chancellor. “The UK government should not be blocking them from accessing important information.”

In the UK, vast tracts of land and property are controlled and passed from one generation to another using thousands of family trusts. They are used by the biggest landowning families, such as the Duke of Westminster, and by a number of current and former ministers to hold family fortunes. Investigations like the Laundromat series and the Panama Papers have revealed how such vehicles are also used to move and disguise fortunes derived from crime and the proceeds of political corruption.

Trusts are a favoured money-laundering tool because of the secrecy that surrounds them. There is currently no public register listing the names, beneficiaries or holdings of any UK trusts, but the new EU directive is designed to change this.

The tax office currently keeps a register of all trusts that pay UK tax. The new directive means that register will be expanded to cover all trusts, whether they pay tax or not. It will include those with UK resident beneficiaries, settlors or trustees, and foreign trusts that own property in the UK or have business dealings here.

The information will be accessible to law enforcement, to professionals with a duty to make money-laundering checks, such as lawyers, accountants and estate agents, but also, for the first time, to members of the public with a good reason for accessing the information.

However, the government’s consultation paper makes it clear that the Treasury is minded to take a cautious approach to information sharing. Those wanting access will need to already have evidence from another source linking the trust or its beneficiary to money-laundering or terrorism, and that evidence will have to be shared with the government.

Even then, the government reserves the right to refuse to share data if it impedes ongoing law enforcement investigations. Unlike freedom of information requests, the government intends to charge for access to the data. Its consultation paper suggests the charges could be significant, stating: “The government expects to apply fees proportionate to the costs involved in checking and compiling the information.” …”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/25/tories-resisting-efforts-to-allow-scrutiny-of-secretive-trusts-says-labour

“EU orders UK to recover illegal tax aid from multinationals”

It has been said this was one reason why some people were anxious for an early hard Brexit – and one company mentioned is the Daily Mail!

“BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain will have to recover millions of euros from some multinationals after EU antitrust regulators ruled on Tuesday that an exemption in a UK tax scheme was illegal.

The European Commission’s decision, following a 16-month investigation, is part of an ongoing crackdown against multinationals benefiting from sweetheart tax deals offered by EU countries.

The EU investigation focussed on Britain’s Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) rules, which are aimed at attracting companies to set up headquarters in Britain and discourage UK companies moving offshore.

The EU competition regulator said an exemption in the scheme for interest income earned by offshore subsidiaries between 2013 and 2018 – which had been criticised by tax campaigners as a major loophole – flouted EU laws.

“The UK gave certain multinationals a selective advantage by granting them an unjustified exemption from UK anti–tax avoidance rules. This is illegal under EU State aid rules,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

The Commission said the exemption could be justified if interest payments received from loans did not result from British activities. However, if they were derived from UK activities, the exemption would not be justified.

The Commission did not say which multinationals are affected nor did it give an estimate for the amount Britain would recover, leaving it to UK tax authorities to reassess the tax liabilities.

BBA Aviation, Chemring, Daily Mail & General, Diageo, Euromoney, Inchcape, London Stock Exchange, Meggitt, Smith & Nephew and WPP are some of the companies which have mentioned the EU investigation in their accounts.

Vestager has already ordered Apple, Starbucks, Fiat Chrysler and several other multinationals to pay back taxes totalling billions of euros to various EU countries.”

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-subsidies-idUKKCN1RE0WB

Tax changes: Poor loose out big time, rich gain

“… In total, there are 35 tax, benefit and pension changes coming into effect on 6 April, plus the increase in the minimum wage from 1 April. The winners are those in higher income bands – up to £100,000 – who will gain significantly from the rise in tax thresholds, although some of that will be pegged back by NI rises.

The losers are those on very low incomes, who gain little from the increase in the personal allowance, and whose benefits will be frozen again. An ongoing work and pensions select committee inquiry suggested affected households will be between £888 and £1,845 worse off in real terms in the coming tax year as a result of the various caps and freezes since 2010-11. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/apr/06/new-tax-year-personal-allowance-benefits-national-insurance-pensions

“Tories cling on to tax exiles’ right to vote for life despite bill delay”

“The government has said it remains committed to passing a law that could allow tax exiles the right to vote and donate to political parties for life, after it failed to pass through the House of Commons.

MPs, including the serial filibusterer Philip Davies, tabled dozens of amendments to the overseas electors bill for debate on Friday, resulting in it being dropped after parliamentary time to discuss it ran out.

Under current law, British expatriates can remain on the electoral roll, allowing them to vote and make donations, for 15 years after they leave the UK. The overseas electors bill proposed removing the time limit, giving all expats the right to vote and donate for life.

Speaking on behalf of the government, the cabinet office minister Chloe Smith told the House: “The government remains committed to scrapping the cap.” The Conservative party pledged to bring in the law in its 2017 manifesto.

Anti-corruption campaigners and Labour MPs had expressed alarm at the bill. Margaret Hodge, the former chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, described the bill as “shocking” and warned it would “increase tax haven billionaires’ influence and allow dirty money donations to political parties”.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/22/tories-cling-on-to-tax-exiles-right-to-vote-for-life-despite-bill-delay

Want to know which tax haven companies own property in your town?

“IN September 2015 Private Eye created an easily searchable online map (see below) of properties in England and Wales owned by offshore companies. It reveals for the first time the extent of the British property interests of companies based in tax havens from Panama to Luxembourg, and from Liechtenstein to the South Pacific island of Niue. Most are held in this way for tax avoidance and often to conceal dubious wealth.
Using Land Registry data released under Freedom of Information laws, and then linking around 100,000 land title register entries to specific addresses, the Eye has mapped all leasehold and freehold interests acquired by offshore companies between 2005 and 2014.

Using this data the Eye published a series of exposes of the companies, arms dealers, oligarchs, money launderers and others who use offshore companies. Now Private Eye, using the same data, is also publishing a database of all properties acquired by offshore companies from 1999 to 2014, showing the address, the offshore corporate owners (some have more than one) and, where available, the price paid.

To download the 1999-2014 database,follow instructions on the website

Download the FREE Tax Haven Special Report follow instructions on the website.

http://www.private-eye.co.uk/tax-havens

No anti-corruption move on property ownership since promised in 2016

“More than £100bn of property in England and Wales is secretly owned, new analysis suggests. More than 87,000 properties are owned by anonymous companies registered in tax havens, research by the transparency group Global Witness reveals.

The analysis reveals that 40% of the properties are in London. Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge, where the average property costs £3m, hosts at least 134 secretly owned properties. Buckingham Palace Road is also home to a large number, with a combined estimated value of £350m.

The revelation comes as parliament’s joint select committee on the draft registration of overseas entities bill meets on Monday to hear evidence on the impact of property ownership by anonymous companies.

The government committed to introduce a register of UK property owners at its anti-corruption summit in 2016, but since then progress has been slow.

“It’s increasingly clear that UK property is one of the favourite tools of the criminal and corrupt for stashing and laundering stolen cash,” said Ava Lee, senior anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness.

“This analysis reveals the alarming scale of the UK’s secret property scandal.”

The combined value of the properties was at least £56bn, according to historical Land Registry data at the time of their acquisition. Once inflation is factored in this would exceed £100bn.

Some 10,000 of the properties are in Westminster, while almost 6,000 are in Kensington and Chelsea. Camden is home to more than 2,300 of the anonymously owned properties while almost 2,000 are in Tower Hamlets.

Global Witness says its investigations have shown how criminals and corrupt politicians use the UK property market to hide or clean dirty cash, and to secure safe havens for themselves and their families.

In 2015 it revealed how the mystery owner of a £147m London property empire owned via a network of offshore companies could be linked to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder, torture and money-laundering.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/17/100-billion-of-uk-propert-secretly-owned-anonymous-firms-tax-havens

Government pulls bill which would have uncovered money launderers

“Ministers have pulled a financial services bill from the House of Commons, fearing the government was almost certain to be defeated on an amendment requiring Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to clamp down on money laundering.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour’s Margaret Hodge want the crown dependencies to introduce public share ownership records by December 2020, which the three territories are resisting.

Mitchell said the government had pulled the bill “in face of certain defeat” because it was backed by a group of rebel Tories as well as Labour and the other opposition parties. But the former cabinet minister added that the amendment would be put to the vote whenever the bill was resubmitted.

Hodge said the government had taken an “outrageous step” to pull the bill because “they knew we commanded a majority. I hope the government will accept our proposals but if not we will continue to campaign for public registers.”

Anti-corruption campaigners believe public records of share ownership would restrict the use of anonymous offshore companies by terrorists, dictators, corrupt politicians and criminals. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/04/house-of-commons-financial-services-bill-debate-pulled-crown-dependencies