Guidorama Investigation: Guardian Offices Owned Offshore

Day two of the Guardian’s ongoing Offshore Secrets investigation focused on “who is buying up London: the real identities behind Britain’s secret property deals”. Apparently some 100,000 tax avoiders have been purchasing British properties and offices using offshore companies, hiding their dealings in the UK and reducing their bill to the exchequer. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Guardian’s very own offices were owned by an offshore company? Surely not…

Guido can reveal that 90 King’s Place, the Guardian’s offices in central London, is owned by a tax exempt offshore investment trust managed from Germany:


If and when the trust’s owners ever decide to sell the property, bought for £234 million and now worth considerably more, the owners could sell the trust offshore rather than the property itself and avoid all UK taxes. The trust itself is exempt from corporation tax in Germany. The Treasury will be denied millions of pounds.

It is incredible that the Guardian is paying millions to an offshore trust which is structured in such a way that it pays no corporation tax anywhere in the world. Guidorama tried to contact James Ball, the Guardian investigations journalist at the forefront of the Offshore Secrets series, he said he was too ill to speak to us, the Guardian Media Group’s press office claims that all the press officers are abroad. Caught on camera Patrick Wintour, the paper’s political editor, pleaded ignorance.

The hypocrisy of the Guardian moralising about tax-avoiding offshore owned properties when it is actually based in one is priceless …

Guardian’s Offshore Secrets: Guardian Media Group Cayman Islands Company Still Active

 

In 2011 Guido produced a video highlighting Guardian Media Group’s financial hypocrisies, provoking a rambling article from editor Alan Rusbridger and another self-justifying piece in the paper blaming the decision to place hundreds of millions in assets offshore on their investment partners Apax.

Rusbridger argued essentially that it is a tough world for his newspaper so they can’t be pure in their business practices. A transparently self-serving argument. It remains the case that despite the Guardian’s high-mindedness it has tax dodging in its DNA. The original trust structure was set up by CP Scott to avoid inheritance taxes. That was wound up in 2008 to exploit a loophole enabling them to pay zero capital gains tax on £307 million in profits. But they haven’t stopped there.

Guido checked with the Cayman’s company registrar yesterday to see if a certain controversial tax-exempt corporation was still operating. In 2008 The Guardian claimed GMG Hazel Acquisition 1 Limited, a GMG-owned company, would be transferred into their investment partner Apax’s offshore structures, normally when this happens there is a name change. The name is unchanged to this day, strongly suggesting the ownership is unchanged. In the spirit of their Offshore Secrets investigation into tax havens, sham companies and nominee directors, perhaps it is time the Guardian explained why

  • If GMG Hazel Acquisition 1 Limited holds no assets, why have its owners continued to pay registration fees since 2007 so it can remain an active company?
  • If it does hold assets what is the total present value of GMG and associated companies’ assets held via the Cayman Islands or other offshore tax havens?
  • Does GMG Hazel Acquisition 1 Limited have “sham” nominee directors, if so, who are they?

There may well be an innocent explanation, these are the sort of questions they ask of others…

Further reading on the Guardian‘s tax hypocrisy:

Priti Patel Demands “Hodge the Dodge” Calls Stemcor to PAC

Priti Patel has written a strongly worded letter to Margaret Hodge demanding that she calls Stemcor in front of the Public Accounts Committee for a grilling –  as Chair of the PAC she would have to stand aside when Stem or gave evidence to avoid a conflict of interest because of her position as a shareholder with millions tied up in Stemcor. Her family firm has a multi-billion pound turnover yet paid a mere £157,000 in tax. Much like Google, Amazon and Starbucks who have already appeared in front of the PAC…

Letter in full:

Ouch…

Margaret Hodge’s Multi-Million Pound Stemcor Trusts

Margaret Hodge didn’t take too kindly to being accused of tax hypocrisy by Priti Patel yesterday. The litigious Labour MP and ardent anti-tax avoidance campaigner insists she has done nothing wrong with her shareholding arrangements at 0.01% tax rate paying Stemcor. She has succeeded in scaring off the dead tree press from reporting her arrangements. Guido has been crunching the numbers and it seems Priti is on to something…

Hodge claimed in a grilling by Michael Crick earlier this month that “I am a tiny, tiny, tiny shareholder”. Her direct shareholding is 1.26% which, given that Stemcor paid out £4,519,000 in dividends last year, means she received some £56,939. That shareholding alone is worth £1.8 million. Hardly a tiny amount.

What’s more Stemcor confirmed yesterday that this figure “excludes shares held in trust or in her children’s names”. The company share register shows that Hodge holds several million pounds worth of shareholdings in trusts, including for members of her family. As Polly Toynbee helpfully explains, this is a clever way of minimising future inheritance tax liability:

“The big sell is trusts, special ones devised for this company’s clients, guaranteed to protect almost all your wealth from inheritance tax. They are right, it can be done easily. Put all moveables and all cash and investments into a discretionary trust, and it passes to your heirs without tax as soon as you die, not even waiting for probate. It counts as a gift so the beneficiaries need pay no tax either.”

Yesterday Guido challenged Hodge to explain the purpose of placing her Stemcor shareholdings in a trust other than to reduce the future inheritance tax liability of her relatives. She has yet to reply…

Letter From Priti Patel to Margaret Hodge Tory MP Says Tax Avoiding Firm Threat to Hodge’s Position

Tory backbencher Priti Patel is twisting the thumbscrews over Margaret Hodge’s family firm.

Hodging Her Bets

“Are you lying to your shareholders” barked Margaret Hodge as she had her moment in the limelight chairing a Public Accounts Committee hearing this afternoon with representatives Google, Starbucks and Amazon – three global companies that pay huge amounts of tax in the UK, but perfectly legally and sensibly reduce their tax bills.

Hodges’ mock incredulity, amateur dramatics and Vaz-esque playing to the camera would have carried more weight if she had not been busted over the weekend profiting as a shareholder from her family firm that paid just 0.01% tax in the  UK last year. Were Stemcor’s directors lying to her as a shareholder? Or is Hodge just a spectacular hypocrite?

HuffPo’s Luxembourg Tax Dodge Bonanza Part II Pays Lower Tax Rate Than Starbucks

The Huffington Post is attacking Starbucks’ tax dodging this morning with the claim that despite earning millions in the UK it pays only 1% in corporation tax. Another headline clearly demonstrating how Mehdi Hasan’s appointment has shifted Arianna Huffington’s website markedly to the left. That left-wing politics are subordinate to corporate profiteering is graphically illustrated by the fact that AOL pays even less UK corporation tax than Starbucks, less than 1%, a miniscule 0.15%:

The latest company accounts available show that in 2010 AOL UK Limited, HuffPo‘s owners, had a revenue of some £78 million. Their accountants certainly earned their fees ensuring that AOL paid just £122,000 in corporation tax. They cleverly and arguably somewhat aggressively pulled £30 million out of the reach of the UK tax authorities by “repatriating” a dividend payment to AOL UK’s sole shareholder – a tax avoidance special purpose vehicle (SPV) AOL Europe Sarl, registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg. Giving AOL/HuffPo an effective tax rate of less than 1% despite returning a massive 38% of revenue to shareholders.

Not only does Arianna not pay her UK bloggers, her company doesn’t pay UK taxes either. Guido applauds their ingenuity in legally avoiding taxes, however the hypocrisy reeks. Left leaning HuffPo campaigns against tax avoidance yet shelters nearly half its annual earnings offshore in Luxembourg. People in offshore glass houses shouldn’t throw large, tax-shaped stones…

See also: Introducing Tax Avoiding HuffPo Luxembourg

Introducing Tax Avoiding HuffPo Luxembourg

HuffPoUK have jumped on the tax status exposé bandwagon, lambasting those terrible internet companies for avoiding tax:

At least they have been gracious enough to admit AOL does not make it into the top five companies on the internet. Guido wonders though, would that by any chance be the same HuffPo UK that is owned by AOL Limited, whose parent company is the Luxembourg-registered AOL Europe Société à responsabilité limitée?

The HuffPoUK exposé makes clear the benefits of such an arrangement:

“Amazon, the UK’s most popular shopping site, generated £3.2 million in UK profits last year yet managed to pay zero corporation tax as its European headquarters are registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg.”

Loads of media organisations have similar set ups, though most would not be so stupid as to throw stones from inside Arianna’s glasshouse. There was no byline on the post –  it seems whoever wrote it is ashamed to put their name to the: Biggest Piece of Hypocrisy Ever Seen on the Internet.™

UPDATE:

Labour Row Back on Millionaire Spin

Interesting that Labour attack dog Michael Dugher is rowing back on Millionaire Miliband’s tax spin this afternoon. Dugher is refusing to repeat the absurd idea that Cameron has written himself a £40,000 cheque, now nuancing the argument by noting that only 8,000 millionaires will benefit. Might be something to do with Dave slaughtering Ed on tax during his speech:

“Did you hear what Ed Miliband said last week about taxes? He described a tax cut as the government writing people a cheque. Ed…Let me explain to you how it works. When people earn money, it’s their money. Not the government’s money: their money. Then, the government takes some of it away in tax. So, if we cut taxes, we’re not giving them money – we’re taking less of it away. OK?”

An important distinction…

Farron Struggles to Defend LibDem Tax Avoidance Scheme

24 hours after Danny Alexander warned tax avoiders “we are coming to get you”, LibDem President Tim Farron has unveiled the party’s new tax avoidance legacy scheme. Rich delegates were plied with red wine and chocolate gateaux in the Grand Hotel’s Empress suite as Farron and his team explained how wealthy donors could reduce their inheritance tax bills.

Following in the tax avoiding footsteps of Labour and the Tories, rich donors were told how “a gift in your will to the LibDems will be tax efficient as gifts to a recognised political party are deducted from your estate before inheritance tax is calculated“. Guido asked an uncomfortable Farron what he thought about his party encouraging members to avoid tax, but the party president attempted to shift the blame by holding his hands up and insisting “I didn’t put it together”. It was later emphasised to Guido that the scheme was “within the law”. It seems Danny Alexander’s promise does not extends to the after life…

Hollande’s Taxodus: Dave’s Red Carpet Already Well Worn

Fresh from the humiliation of his premature gold medal boasting at the Olympics, President Hollande is facing the much predicted taxodus from Paris to London.

This morning’s City AM reported:

“London-based recruitment firm Astbury Marsden, which specialises in the banking sector, has seen a 51 per cent rise in French-language applicants in recent months, compared with the same period of 2011.“There is a definite spike in French-speaking candidates,” said managing director Jonathan Nicholson. We have not seen similar increases in candidates from other countries.”

When Hollande vowed to steal 75% of his hard-working countrymen’s income earlier this year Dave promised to roll out the red carpet. Now they’re saying au revoir to François…

Labour Wonks v Page 3 Girls

Labour wonk-shop IPPR have declared war on the Sun‘s Page 3 girls as they publish a report claiming that the government’s bleeding of motorists via high fuel taxes is just a “myth“. Earlier this week the Sun girls jumped on board the Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign to freeze fuel duty by showing their support at petrol stations up and down the country. Now IPPR has hit back, laughably arguing that the Chancellor “should make every effort to avoid further delays in fuel duty increases“. Will’s argument is unconvincing and not likely to be taken up by the Labour Party. “Vote Labour for higher petrol taxes” is a CCHQ dream slogan…

More Magic Money Tree Madness

Richard Murphy is a left-wing economist, accountant and blogger who has advised Brendan Barber’s TUC and Mark Serwotka’s PCS and written regularly for the Guardian. Twitter users will know that he maintains a close relationship with several tweeting Labour MPs. This morning Murphy put his foot in it by betraying the loony left’s true thoughts on the public debt:

When will the flat-earthers learn…

Britain Sends Aid to Mars

The Indian government has today announced plans to launch a mission to Mars next year. The $82 million project, funded in part by the British taxpayers’ money meant for starving children, will see an unmanned spacecraft set off for the Red Planet in November 2013.

The least they could do is plant a Union Jack…

Unions Help Teachers Pay Less Tax

Guido would like to express solidarity with £142,000 per year union fat cat Christine Blower, who has found an innovative new way to reduce her members’ tax bills. For all her moralistic demands that people “play fair on tax“, it turns out she wasn’t talking to union members. 

Unionised teachers are being advised that they can now claim tax back on their union subscriptions. Any member of the National Union of Teachers, NASUWT or any of the other major teaching unions is eligible to a generous rebate on their yearly union fees. Guido is thinking of a forming a union of yacht owners…

LibDems Offer Tax Avoidance Legacy Scheme

Back in July Guido revealed how both the Tories and Labour were advising their donors how to avoid tax through controversial inheritance schemes. Now it appears the LibDems have followed suit. Right at the beginning of this year’s conference guide yellow benefactors are encouraged to sign up for their new “legacy fund campaign“, where donors “leave a sum of money or a share of your estate to the Liberal Democrats“. Generous participants even get the chance to meet Tim Farron…

The LibDems have been slightly more subtle than their Coalition counterparts – rememberClick here to see how a gift to the Conservative Party can reduce your inheritance tax bill” – but it would appear that the boundary reform busters are up to the same trick. They note that “legacy income provides an important part of the funding for most major charities, and so it should for us too“, hinting that they will take advantage of inheritance tax loopholes to help their donors avoid tax. What was that about morally repugnant…

Tax Dodge Investigators Funded By Labour Non-Dom

The Inspector Clouseau hacks over at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism have prided themselves in exposing tax avoidance over the last few months. In March they worked with Private Eye to reveal Vodafone had used Swiss bank accounts to exploit a loophole in tax laws, while they have even gone after the Guardian for saving millions in the Cayman Islands. To say they have had a holier-than-thou stance would be an understatement.

Funny then that TBIJ‘s founder and chief benefactor, Labour Party donor David Potter, is a tax avoiding non-dom. Potter has given some £2 million to TBIJ since 2010 despite the fact that he has allegedly used his non-dom status to avoid paying income tax. It seems TBIJ are against tax dodging unless it’s done by the man who bankrolls them… 

That HMRC Stasi Document in Full

Guido had to check he hadn’t woken up in some Stalinist dystopia when he read that HMRC have been telling school children to tell their teacher if they suspect that their neighbours have been dodging tax. Lesson plans suggested by the government include asking teenagers to name any examples of tax evasion they can think of from their local area:

Anyone seen Mr. Gauke recently?

David Gauke Worked For Tax Avoidance Firm

Exchequer Secretary David Gauke has some nerve doing the rounds on tax morality this week. Yesterday Guido brought you news of Gauke’s past avoidance of stamp duty and his wife’s job at a firm advising tax lawyers, while today the Telegraph and Mail both splash on his claim that paying tradesmen cash in hand is “morally wrong“:

“Getting a discount with your plumber by paying cash in hand is something that is a big cost to the Revenue and means others have to pay more in tax. I think it is morally wrong.”

Guido can now reveal that Gauke himself worked for a company that specialises in helping the wealthy avoid tax. According to Debretts between 1999 and 2005 – when he became an MP – Gauke was a solicitor at Macfarlanes, a top city law firm with expertise on tax efficiency. They boast on their website:

“The tax efficient structuring of employee incentive arrangements is often a key requirement for our clients to achieve their commercial objectives. We have particular expertise in the structuring of tax efficient equity based incentive plans. We are able to develop innovative solutions to the most complex tax issues when necessary.”

Tax efficient equity-based plans, eh? Like those used by investment bankers perchance? Gauke must have made a success of finding “innovative solutions” to reducing his clients’ tax bills as he appears to be held in high regard by his former colleagues:

Guido feels Gauke should look in the mirror the next time he thinks about lecturing us on the morality of taxation…

David Gauke's Wife is Tax Avoidance Lawyer

This morning Guido named and shamed Treasury minister David Gauke – in his own words – as “morally repugnant” to be criticising others for their tax arrangements, but it doesn’t stop there. It turn’s out that Gauke’s wife Rachel is a professional support lawyer for Lexis Nexis, a company which boasts of its ability to “support every tax practitioner on the front line as they deal with the tax collector“.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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