What the com­men­ta­tors said

The Week - - News -

It’s the hum­bug I can’t abide, said Philip John­ston in The Daily Tele­graph. Why on earth should the Queen apol­o­gise, as Labour now in­sists, for the Duchy of Lan­caster in­vest­ing some of her money in the Cay­man Is­lands? It’s a per­fectly le­gal ma­noeu­vre, as her ac­cusers well know. The Labour Party it­self rents its Lon­don HQ from a tax-ex­empt prop­erty trust based in Jer­sey. The Guardian, now on its high horse about this, used a tax-ex­empt shell com­pany in the Cay­mans to pur­chase the me­dia group Emap. This “scan­dal” sim­ply re­veals what we al­ready knew: that the rich “avail them­selves of le­git­i­mate tax ve­hi­cles off­shore to limit their li­a­bil­i­ties”. That misses the point, said Will Gore in The In­de­pen­dent. The is­sue “is about per­cep­tion, not le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties”. It doesn’t mat­ter if those of us with a pen­sion turn out to have a bit of that money in off­shore funds. What the Bri­tish pub­lic hates is the idea that the su­per-rich, ad­vised by clever lawyers and tax ex­perts, are gain­ing a fur­ther ad­van­tage over the rest of us. The Queen, through no fault of her own, has be­come an em­blem of the in­equal­ity that en­tails.

Le­gal or not, the tax haven sys­tem is a form of theft, said Gabriel Zuc­man in The Guardian. It en­ables multi­na­tion­als to shift their yearly prof­its from the places where they do most of their busi­ness to places with bar­gain tax rates: for the UK alone, the bill for such ac­coun­tancy ma­nip­u­la­tion adds up to s12.7bn a year. It also en­ables ul­tra-wealthy peo­ple to hide their money in face­less shell cor­po­ra­tions and avoid tax al­to­gether: the equiv­a­lent of 10% of global GDP is held off­shore by rich in­di­vid­u­als. Yet fix­ing the sys­tem may not be that hard, said Ben Chu in The In­de­pen­dent. Law firms, banks and ac­coun­tants have cre­ated a “con­ve­nient smoke­screen” of com­plex­ity for their clients; much could be done sim­ply by in­sist­ing on the au­to­matic ex­change of tax in­for­ma­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent states. We just need to end the se­crecy over how much tax an in­di­vid­ual is pay­ing and in which coun­try: “ev­ery­thing flows from that”.

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