Tens of thousands of UK properties hidden in tax havens

From London

Tens of thousands of multi-million dollar properties in the United Kingdom belong to companies registered in tax havens. Among the final beneficiaries of these companies are 20 big donors to the Conservative Partythe monarchies of the Middle East, the Chinese government, the motorist lewis hamiltonthe illusionist Uri Geller who bent spoons with his gaze and even yoko onothe widow of John Lennon.

These names have come to light thanks to the creation last year of the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE is the acronym in English). The ROE came into effect on August 1 and gave a deadline until this 31 January for the tens of thousands of companies that own assets in the UK to declare who they are the real owners behind the names and complex structures that obscure their identity.

UK for sale

With this title (“the United Kingdom for sale”), the morning Guardian has uncovered the pot. Some three quarters of the tens of thousands of companies are registered in five tax havens, four of which belong to the British orbit remotely controlled from the City of London: the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and, exception to the rule, Luxembourg.

The Arab states have more than a billion pounds of London property registered to companies in the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. In these jurisdictions they pay the minimum or zero tax that governs the Tax Havens.

According to him Guardian Some 200 properties belong to a nucleus of billionaire dynasties of the middle east owners of hotel chains, luxury properties, mansions and other assets of the extensive patrimonial paraphernalia of the super-rich. Some sample cases:

* Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City boss and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, is the beneficial owner of 17 registered properties on the Isle of Jersey.

* The Qatari monarchy of recent Argentine soccer glory owns £10bn worth of assets including the traditional “British” chain of Harrods.

* Members of the royal family from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain own 200 properties worth more than £1 billion in companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the sister Republic of Panama .

the chinese too

The law that created the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE) was one of the paradoxical consequences of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Against the ropes for scandals and suspicions of corruption, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson he saw in the war an opportunity to regain his popularity by becoming the standard-bearer for sanctions against the “Russian oligarchs”.

Pushed by his rhetoric, Johnson was forced to unearth an old conservative project that stemmed from the Panama Papers scandal (which embroiled then Prime Minister David Cameron) and that Johnson himself had pushed aside in the 2019 elections because his project was to turn the United Kingdom into the “Singapore of the Thames” (ie, a tax haven on the banks of the historic river).

The project ended in the law that created the ROE and opened this Pandora’s box. Among the box’s surprising guests is the China Investment Corporation (CIC), a state entity that manages China’s vast foreign reserves, more than $1 trillion in assets worldwide.

Some 600 million dollars have been identified as properties in the United Kingdom, although it is estimated that the final figure will be much higher. Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, a British crown dependency, are the jurisdictions chosen by the CIC to set up their “companies”.

Financing the Conservative Party

More worrying for the electorate is that the PC (Conservative Party) has been financed in recent decades by the actual owners of entities based in tax havens. Some 20 party donors, including telecoms, steel and finance entrepreneurs, are the ultimate beneficiaries of more than 150 offshore entities set up to acquire property and other assets in the UK. In total they contributed some 21 million pounds to the Conservative party that won five consecutive elections in the last 12 years. Two lords, Irvine Laidlaw and Stanley Fink (former PC treasurer) donated more than £3 million each to the coffers of the Tories.

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In this landscape, the “celebrities” could not be missing. Car racer Lewis Hamilton owns three companies in the British Virgin Islands, including a £16 million-plus apartment in the heart of London. Yoko Ono registered the first property in which John Lennon lived in Dellaware, United States.

Who finances the state?

As the UK has been rocked by crackdowns by state sectors since last June and on the eve of a virtual public services general strike on Wednesday, the revelations are yet another blow to a shaky government.

In the battle for public opinion, the government assures that, with 100% public debt, finances do not allow for granting increases. The revelations of Guardian and the ROE files show that behind the debt and the tightness of the state accounts there is a large-scale tax evasion.

The official estimate is around £32bn a year, but this figure doubles if tax avoidance and various legal loopholes that favor the rich are added. This Sunday the president of the Conservative Party and former finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, was fired from his post after months of dragging allegations of tax evasion worth five million pounds.

Among the problems conservatives have is that the billionaire Prime Minister Rishi Sunak You cannot boast of much in this chapter. In addition to two fines – one for violating covid restrictions, one for not wearing a seatbelt – his wife, Indian billionaire Akshata Murthy, has long benefited from one of the many rules favoring British millionaires: the “non dom”, a tax exemption for all English residents who have registered a “permanent” address abroad.

These ingenious mechanisms and domiciliary double standards for the rich, do not apply to teachers, professors, nurses, doctors and other public sector workers who are being offered an average increase of 4% against inflation of 11% after more ten years of virtual salary freeze. Not only the opposition or the unions, but NGOs such as the Tax Justice Network have stressed the obvious: the tax system must be fixed to end malaria. “If you receive income from investments or property, he pays much less in taxes than the average worker. Thus a banker pays less than his secretary. Tens of billions of pounds a year are lost through this hole. Ending the “non dom” scandal is another way to combat the problem. Closing the legal loopholes and ending tax avoidance by multinationals would change the landscape,” he told PageI12 Rob Palmer UK Director of Tax Justice.

The government for the moment does not intend to change course. He resists the call of conservative sectors to lower taxes “right now” but in the medium term, he has the project of creating “mini Canary Wharfs” (a London financial sector area with special tax concessions) to relaunch the United Kingdom economically. In the budget to be presented in March by Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt (also involved in a tax avoidance case) it will be clearer how this battle continues between the tax evasion/avoidance of the rich and multinationals and the financing of public services, decisive for the fate of the Conservative government.

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