Queen's estate caught up in offshore tax data leak

The Queen's estate is caught up in the document leak.
The Queen's estate is caught up in the document leak.
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The Queen has become embroiled in an explosive leak of financial documents laying bare investments in offshore tax havens by the world's rich and powerful.

A disclosure of 13.4 million documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, reportedly tie major companies and political figures to secretive overseas arrangements.

Among those said to be named in the tranche of material is former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft and US President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, who is reportedly linked to a Russian firm.

The Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of the Queen, was found to have millions of pounds invested in offshore arrangements in the biggest data leak since the Panama Papers last year. Around £10 million from the Queen’s private fund was paid into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda between 2004 and 2005, according to reports.

A small part of the cash, £3,208, has also been traced to a lender which has previously been criticised for ripping off poor customers.

The Queen voluntarily pays tax on any income she receives from the Duchy.

A spokesman for the estate said: “We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds. All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate.”

Senior political figures have claimed that taxpayers will be “rightly outraged” by the disclosures that the world’s richest organisations and wealthy individuals have invested in offshore tax havens.

The Paradise Papers have been analysed by almost 100 media organisations and hundreds of individuals and companies reportedly have their overseas investments exposed by the files, which are also said to reveal that major global companies have exploited offshore schemes to avoid tax.

The political reverberations of the release began to be felt almost immediately.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the data “proves” that “there’s one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax.”

His concern was echoed by Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said senior officials from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) would appear before the panel today.

She said: “British taxpayers will be rightly outraged by the content of these disclosures. Every pound moved offshore to avoid paying tax deprives public services of vital funds. The Government talks tough about clamping down on aggressive tax avoidance but once again we see HM Revenue & Customs being out-manoeuvred. HMRC must investigate the very worrying allegations arising from this.”

First obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, the documents stem from two offshore service providers and company registries from 19 tax havens, The Guardian reports.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists oversaw the project, it is claimed.

A small portion of the Queen’s investments - £3,208 - was found to have bought a holding in the lender BrightHouse, the BBC and The Guardian reported. The rent-to-buy firm has previously been accused of exploiting customers with high interest rates, but maintains it does responsible business.

Cash ended up in BrightHouse via a company called Dover Street VI Cayman Fund LP, in which the Duchy of Lancaster reportedly invested 7.5 million US dollars (£5.73m) in 2005. The organisation bought an interest in a project involved in the takeover of BrightHouse and Threshers, which went bust.

A further £5m was invested in 2004 in the Bermuda-based Jubilee Absolute Return Fund Ltd. The Dover Street investment is said to form only 0.3 per cent of the total value of the Duchy.

Beyond the UK, the White House was hit by fresh claims that it has ties to Russia. Commerce secretary Mr Ross is allegedly shown by the papers to have cash in a shipping company which deals with Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.

The Russian firm navigator, in which the offshore investments are reportedly held, has a partnership with Sibur, a gas company co-owned by Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Mr Putin’s daughter.

Social media, technology and sports companies are also said to have money sheltered in overseas havens, alongside a line-up of A-list celebrities.

The Government responded by defending its record on combating tax avoidance and evasion. A Treasury spokeswoman said: “Since 2010, the Government has secured an additional £160b, more than the annual NHS budget, by tackling tax evasion and non-compliance. This includes £2.8b from those trying to hide money abroad.”