It is not surprising that the United Kingdom features prominently in the Panama Papers — the massive cache of documents on off-shore holdings released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists following a leak from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.
In the global power list of people whose names figure in the documents for tax-avoidance and money laundering, are British citizens as well as those who have made Britain their home. British tax-havens such as Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, and overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands are very much a part of the secretive financial protection that tax-havens offer.
Further, British-owned and London-based banks are among the biggest users of law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The documents show that HSBC, Coutts, Rothschild and UBS are among the top 10 banks that asked the law firm to set up hundreds of the near 15,600 paper companies to help clients conceal their finances, according to The Guardian . The newspaper is, along with BBC Panorama, a part of the consortium.
The embarrassment over revelations of British participation in tax-evasion is doubly embarrassing for Prime Minister David Cameron as his father, who died in 2010, was a client of Mossack Fonseca.
Ian Cameron was a director of investment fund Blairmore Holdings Inc, and according to The Guardian , the fund managed tens of millions of pounds.
Blairmore was registered in the Bahamas, and therefore avoided paying British taxes, because Cameron senior employed Panamanians and held company meetings there. According to The Guardian , the fund managed tens of millions of pounds for the wealthy and that “in 30 years Blairmore has never paid a penny of tax in the U.K. on its profits.” The Prime Minister’s office refused to respond to the allegations.
Creating an offshore company is not in itself illegal. It only becomes so when it is not registered in the name of the promoter, or it is done for illegal purposes such as laundering money or tax avoidance. In Britain, the BBC Panorama team has established links between Mossack Fonseca’s role in covering up the trail in the famous Brink’s-Mat robbery of 1983, when £26 million worth of bullion was stolen from a warehouse near Heathrow. Mossack Fonseca has denied wrongdoing of any kind.
Among the politicians who figure in the documents are six peers, three former Conservative Members of Parliament, and several party donors. The Guardian has confirmed that U.K. tax investigators have written to them requesting access to the secret files.
The revelations come a month ahead of a meeting of world leaders Mr. Cameron is due to chair, on how the U.K. can improve its mechanisms of dealing with tax evasion in London.