Friday, 13 February 2015

silkily locking a few secrets away


The wheels on the bus go round and round and people still stay that London buses come along in twos and threes. I'm less convinced of that last point, with the 137s and 452s coming along at nicely spaced frequent intervals.

I'll settle for some of the current political scandals coming along in twos and threes though. Not that it will be easy to work any of it out. Now that Prime Minister's Question time has become Prime Minister's Evasion time, or even Prime Minister's Distract and Blame The Others time, its almost impossible to get a straight answer in anything.

The current interest could be in the various Grey Enterprise Holdings and their off-shore frolics as they find ways to save tax and aim political donations towards gaining influence, power and honour.

Why is it in twos and threes? We see Conservative and Labour caught up amongst the donors. We see knowledge of the events from around 2005 (Labour) and then repeated in 2010 (Conservatives and Lib-Dem).

But in case this all seems to be about Switzerland as a tax haven, let's not forget the other locations like the Cayman Islands. Is it too old school of me to mention Luxembourg? That's another two or three. If I decided to go with just British options I suppose I'd have to resort to Cayman, Jersey, Bermuda, Guernsey, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Gibraltar and maybe Anguilla. That's their order in the Financial Secrecy Index, last updated in 2013. In fairness, only 5 of them are in the FSI Top Twenty and the UK itself comes in at number 21.

But that all leads in to another set of twos and threes. This is the banks themselves. The current focus is on HSBC, which was the one mentioned in the recent Swiss leakage of information.

So let's pick one of the other places on the list and have a quick look. Cayman Islands sounds very John Grisham novel. The sort of place that Christian Grey might take Anastasia to on a private jet for some privacy.

Hmm. Barclays have reduced their number of subsidiaries in the Caymans. From 181 to 134. Only 134 subsidiaries on that island with a population of 57,000? But wait. A couple of the part Government-owned banks have some interests too. RBS has around 37 companies in the Caymans and Lloyds Bank around 24.

Presumably there's more than two or three Grey Enterprise Holdings style organisations and Christian Grey type people around to need that kind of support?

Okay, so Christian is completely fictional. The Prime Minister appears to blend both fact and fiction.

His own family have dabbled in creative tax management too. Blairmore Holdings Inc was set up by his father, and then another fund based in Jersey and a third in Geneva. David was still at Eton when Blairmore Holdings was started.

The Blairmore Prospectus makes interesting reading: "The affairs of the fund should be managed and conducted so that it does not become resident in the United Kingdom for UK taxation purposes."

Blairmore's original registration is in Panama, its principle trading office shows in the Bahama, yet the Smith and Williamson Investment Manager is in Moorgate and the Simmons and Simmons Legal Advisors in Ropemaker Street, both London, EC2.

I suppose the respectable London connections made it convenient for British investors to get signed up. Blairmore's opaque structure also makes it difficult to see where the money has gone.

So let's summarise:
  • Donors to both the biggest parties can be implicated in off-shore tax matters.
  • Other banks than HSBC (including those part-owned by the UK Government) appear to operate tax avoidance processes.
  • The UK itself has various related sovereign states with tax avoidance operations.
  • The Prime Minister's statements could appear to blend fact and some less factual points during an increasingly distracted and more Punch and Judy based question time.
  • Blairmore and its related implications may be worth some clarification?
I realise I've spent more than my usual 10 minutes writing this post. Longer than I'd normally wait for a bus of whatever colour.

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