The Guardian and the Panama Papers

April 4, 2016 at 5:17 pm (capitalism, corruption, crime, Guardian, Jim D, media, Russia, tax)

Capture of the Guardian's totally accidentally misleading headline.

Above: from the Guardian’s  front page today

The ‘Panama Papers’ is without doubt the biggest and most important story (so far) of the century, and Shiraz will be keeping a sharp eye, in particular, on how Putin’s fans and apologists on the supposed “left” deal with it. The Mossack Fonseca documents were initially passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The fact is that the Guardian is just one among 109 media organisations in 76 countries that have helped break the story – which makes this message from Deputy Editor Paul Johnson a bit of a damn cheek. I don’t think I’ll be sending them any money just yet:

Hello,

The “Panama Papers” is the biggest leak in history: 11.5m documents – which would take one person 27 years to read – describing in the finest detail, for the first time, how rivers of money are moved around the world, hidden from sight by secret offshore banking operations.

The scale of the story is staggering: inside those papers 113,000 shell companies were discovered – helping hundreds of national leaders, politicians, celebrities and business people hide their money.

If the scale of the leak was enormous, the journalistic effort to bring it to full exposure was just as big: 370 journalists from 70 different countries worked in an unprecedented scale of co-operation. At the Guardian, we had five journalists dedicated to the investigation for six months, in conditions of tight secrecy, working through the dozens of stories and an exhaustive legal process.

Readers can support such journalism by making a financial contribution to the Guardian. Make a contribution here.

Today’s investigation has created a much-needed worldwide debate about tax and fairness. There are another four days of stories to come. We think they are of vital public importance. We hope you agree.

Thank you for your support and for reading the Guardian.

Paul Johnson
Deputy Editor, Guardian News and Media

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Osborne’s shameful sweetheart deal with Google

January 26, 2016 at 4:36 pm (capitalism, corruption, internet, Jim D, London, profiteers, tax, Tory scum)

George Osborne’s claim that Google’s £130 million over ten years tax settlement with HMRC is a “major success” now looks like a pretty sick joke.

Tax campaigners like Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK have exposed the deal as involving a tiny proportion of Google’s $5.6 billion (£5.6 billion) annual UK revenues. Google spends about $12 million a year on chicken for its staff canteens.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has aptly described the settlement as a “sweetheart deal” , making the point that tax experts (including Murphy, Prof Prem Sikka and  Labour tax barrister Jolyn Maugham) all think that the likely tax rate paid by Google on its likely UK profits may, even after this settlement, not exceed 5%. Google has paid an effective tax rate of around 3% over the past decade, despite a UK corporation tax rate of more than 20%.

Today’s Times reports that French officials have pursued Google far more aggressively, and are in the process of negotiating a settlement worth three times the amount agreed with Britain, despite Google doing more business and employing thousands more staff (2,500) in the UK. Referring to the company’s practice of registering all European sales in Dublin (to benefit from a lower tax rate), a French official (quoted in The Times) said, “We have a hard time believing that 150 well-paid salespeople with advanced degrees employed by one particular company in France are nothing more than busboys for Ireland.”

Anyone who heard the wretched performance of Jim Harra (HMRC’s ‘Director General Business Tax’) attempting to defend the deal on Radio4’s World At One today, will be aware that when all else fails, HMRC falls back on the plea of ” taxpayer confidentiality” to avoid discussion of the principles it has applied when reaching its deal with Google. Nils Pratley, in today’s Guardian, gives the “taxpayer confidentiality” argument short shrift:

“Google and Osborne were happy to publish selected highlights of HMRC’s settlement – the former to appear a good corporate citizen, the latter to try to appear a muscular chancellor. If limited disclosure is OK, both parties should be able to agree full disclosure for the sake of wider understanding.”

But perhaps the most astonishing and outrageous aspect of this whole sordid business is the claim (in todays Times) that:

“HMRC officials never challenged the company’s central and most controversial claim — that it has no ‘permanent establishment’ in Britain — even after they were given whistleblower evidence challenging its account

“The claim is critical to a complex structure used by Google to avoid hundreds of millions of pounds in UK corporation tax. By arguing that it has no fixed place of business in Britain, the company is able to book all its sales to UK customers through an Irish subsidiary, from where profits are again diverted to the tax haven of Bermuda.”

Never mind “whistleblower evidence”: you’d have thought this building, the Google offices in central London, might just have given the game away:

 

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Tax fraud isn’t HSBC’s only crime: there’s money-laundering as well

February 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm (capitalism, crime, David Cameron, drugs, Jim D, tax, terror, Tory scum)

HSBC building

The Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee gets it 100% right in her latest column; this week’s revelations about HSBC should be a gift to Labour if the party leadership make the most of it:

Labour is lucky this global story blew up in a week already dominated by a tax avoidance row: it was a Tory blunder to put up the Monaco-dwelling head of Boots to call Labour a “catastrophe”, when his company pays a fraction of the UK tax it did before switching its base to Switzerland. Timing is important here: the HSBC revelations haven’t emerged on Labour’s watch. Both Eds have frequently – and rightly – apologised for Labour’s feeble regulation of banks pre-crash, while always reminding Cameron and Osborne that they called loudly for less banking “red tape” in those days.

Ms Toynbee isn’t always a favourite with us here at Shiraz, but the piece quoted from above is a hum-dinger, and well worth reading in full.

Left Foot Forward‘s Ruby Stockham, meanwhile, has put 4 questions to David Cameron that should be repeated ad nauseam between now and the election.

But it’s worth remembering that the crimes of HSBC under Stephen Green (aka Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint and minister for trade and investment between 2010 and 2013) were not restricted to colluding in tax fraud: they also extended to money-laundering.

In 2012, HSBC agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine for money laundering for clients that the US authorities said included Mexican drug cartels (as well as providing services to lenders in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh though to include supporters of al Qaeda).

The Daily Telegraph‘s David Hughes reported on July 17 2012:

While the Treasury select committee is giving the third degree to Mervyn King and his chums over the Libor debacle, a potentially much bigger banking scandal is breaking in the United States. The US Senate has launched a coruscating attack on HSBC for its slapdash approach to money-laundering regulations. The bank could face a $1 billion fine.

According to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “the culture at HSBC was pervasively polluted for a long time.” Just how polluted was revealed in the Senate report into the scandal. For example, between 2007 and 2008, HSBC’s Mexican operations moved $7bn into the bank’s US operations. According to the report, both Mexican and US authorities warned HSBC that the amount of money could only have reached such a level if it was tied to illegal narcotics proceeds. This is explosive stuff for the “world’s local bank”, as HSBC calls itself.

As these other, perhaps even more serious, scandals from the noughties have not been widely reported in the last few days (except by the FT‘s excellent Jonathan Guthrie), here are a couple of links to articles from July 2012:

David Hughes’s Telegraph piece (quoted from above), here

The Telegraph‘s report on the US Senate’s findings, here

Ned Simons at the Huffington Post (which mentions the alleged al Qaeda funding) here.

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Bedroom tax judgement to be appealed

July 30, 2013 at 11:19 pm (benefits, Cuts, Disability, Jim D, law, tax, Tory scum, welfare)

From Leigh Day & Co:

Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’

Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.

Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%.  The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.

The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.

Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing

The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.

The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”

The Wider Group

However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified.  Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.

They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.

Appeal

Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.

Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.

This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.

Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.

3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.

Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:

“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal.  Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”

***

The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.

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The hilarious Jimmy Carr

June 20, 2012 at 5:21 pm (Asshole, Beyond parody, capitalism, celebrity, comedy, Jim D, tax)

You’ve just got to laugh, eh?

“In a series of covertly recorded meetings, K2’s providers did not divulge his name but boasted that ‘a top-level comedian’ had used the K2 scheme for a number of years. ‘How much is the highest amount you think we’ve got going through this solution?’ Roy Lynass of Peak Performance Accountants, asked businessmen in March. ‘£3.3 million. That’s actually a well-known comedian.

“‘He’s got his own company, it’s making about £4-£4.5 million. He pays himself £100,000 salary and puts through £3.3 million'”The Times, June 19 2012.

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Sign of EU sanity at Unite

April 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm (Europe, Jim D, solidarity, tax, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Unite’s policy conference will be held between 25th-28th June, and the preliminary agenda of motions submitted from branches and committees and  has just been released.  As might be expected, it’s a mixed bag, including some good stuff as well as some appalling rubbish. But there is one particularly encouraging straw in the wind: a resolution on the EU that not only doesn’t call for withdrawal, but actively opposes it. The importance of this cannot be over-estimated given the dreadful anti-Euopean traditions of both the old T&G and Amicus, and the influence of little-England xenophobes on the Stalinist-inluenced “left” of both the old unions.

Internationalists musn’t get over-excited. There’s just one progressive motion as against three calling for withdrawal and another calling for a referendum (in practice a thinly-disguised call for withdrawal). But it’s unprecedented (certainly, in the ex-T&G anyway) to have the internationalist case even aired at a national conference and the motion (from Southampton 0854 branch) should provide the basis for a proper debate, and a real challenge to the anti-Brussels bleating from the Stalinists and other little-Englanders who traditionally impose their reactionary orthodoxy on any discussion on Europe within the union. The internationalist motion isn’t perfect. It’s essentially left-reformist. But it’s a decent start and certainly represents a massive improvement on the union’s traditional stance on Europe. It also takes on the little-England brigade head-to-head and no-holds-barred, which has got to be a good thing  Here it is:

98.      EUROPEAN UNION

Conference is deeply concerned at the outcome of the November 2011 EU Council which left the UK isolated in the EU, and has reopened the debate about whether the UK should now leave the EU completely.

Conference believes the UK Prime Minister’s only concern is pandering to his Party’s xenophobes and protecting the interests of his friends in the City of London, rather than trying to work with the EU to control the forces that caused the global economic crisis.  The opposition to the Financial Transaction Tax proposal demonstrates this clearly.

Conference fully supports the European TUC’s opposition to the proposed Treaty changes and agrees that:

* Locking EU Member States into austerity by Treaty changes will cause further social and economic damage and hinder recovery;

* The solution to the current crisis lies in a European led investment strategy to produce growth, including the European Cerntral Bank issuing Eurobonds, a Financial Transaction Tax, a fair and effective tax collection system, measures against tax evasion and the end of tax havens.

While opposing the current proposed EU Treaty changes however, Conference fully opposes any attempt to leave the European Union. Despite its many flaws and the problems that it currently faces, Conference recognises that the EU:

* Has helped to ensure peace on the European continent for more than 50 years;

* Is over 50% of the UK’s export market and that the UK’s economy and future prosperity is intrinsically linked with the EU’s economy;

* Has brought many social and economic rights to UK workers – including the Part-Time Work, Parental Leave, European Works Councils, Information and Consultation, Equal Treatment and Anti-Discrimination, Working Time, Directives, amongst others.

Conference therefore commits UNITE to:

* Oppose any attempts to leave the European Union and to work for a vote for continued EU membership should a referendum be called;

* Continue to work with sister unions in other countries, as well as the European Trade Union Federations, the ETUC, and allies in the European Commission and European Parliament, for a fundamental change in European economic policy and the development of a new Social Dimension;

Launch a series of regional seminars to inform and educate UNITE activists about the value of EU membership and the dangers with withdrawal.

Southampton 0845 Branch

The most effective way of building support for a motion to Unite policy conference is to submit strengthening amendments. I’d suggest something calling for a levelling-up of workers rights throughout Europe and/or something strengthening the section on relations with European union organisations and adding something about solidarity with workers fighting austerity across Europe. Amendments need to be received by Unite’s Conference Office not later than Friday 18th May.

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Osborne’s ‘Casablanca’ moment: he’s shocked, shocked!

April 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm (Asshole, Beyond parody, cinema, comedy, Jim D, parasites, tax, Tory scum)

I’m shocked, shocked!

George Osborne has said he was “shocked” to discover that some of the wealthiest people in the country pay “virtually no” income tax.

The chancellor said he had seen “anonymised” tax returns submitted by multimillionaires using aggressive avoidance schemes to dramatically reduce their tax bills.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found that the income tax rate among some of the highest earners was, on average, only 10%.

Osborne said the HMRC study convinced him of the need to “take action” to ensure high earners pay more income tax.

In last month’s budget he limited how much people could offset their tax bills by investing in businesses or donating to charity.

Anyone seeking to claim more than £50,000 of tax relief in any one year will have a cap set at 25% of their income from 2013.

HMRC found hundreds of millions of pounds of income tax is avoided by using legal loopholes.

The main methods included writing off business losses, offsetting the cost of business mortgages, and borrowing on buy-to-let properties.

Others took advantage of tax relief on donations to charity.

“I was shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs, and to be fair it’s within the tax laws, so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax. And I don’t think that’s right,” Osborne told the Daily Telegraph.

“I’m talking about people right at the top. I’m talking about people with incomes of many millions of pounds a year.

“The general principle is that people should pay income tax and that includes people with the highest incomes.”

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Vote Livingstone: tax-dodger, hypocrite and scumbag

March 9, 2012 at 11:31 am (Asshole, AWL, expenses, Guardian, islamism, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, London, New Statesman, Pabs, populism, tax, unions)

“You know that I have long held the opinion that a Labour Left which accepts you as any sort of leader, or even as a member, is a Left that lacks purpose, standards, memory, self-definition and proper self-respect” – Sean Matgamna, Open Letter to Ken Livingstone, 2010.

The net finally seems to be closing on Ken Livingstone. For decades, this strutting shyster and shameless charlatan has somehow ‘got away with it’ in the eyes of much of the ‘left’ (from the liberal-left Guardianistas to the ‘far- left’ of the Socialist Action and Socialist Worker variety).

Some of us, like Sean Matgamna of the AWL, rumbled Livingstone early on and had no hesitation in denouncing him for what he was (and remains): a posturing, fake-left gobshite willing to grovel to the powerful and, indeed, anyone, no matter how reactionary, who might do his career some good.

But, astonishingly, most of the ‘left’ and much of the trade union movement has continued to be taken in by (the future) Lord Redken of Gobshite. Their chummy approach is summed up by the fact that they feel themselves to be on first name terms with him – he’s always “Ken” to these idiots.

Even when he sank as low as anyone who claims to be a socialist can sink, and called for scabbing, the Livingstone ‘brand’ has remained strangely unsullied. Until now.

It turns out that this champion of the poor and oppressed, this scourge of the ruling class, is nothing but a dirty, hypocritical, two-faced tax-dodger. Most of us first heard about this last Sunday from Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer. Cohen, an honest left-wing journalist has been one of the very few writers in the mainstream liberal-left media, to have consistently attacked Livingstone in recent years, and for the right reasons. But Cohen’s understandable hatred of the man has led him to an unfortunate political conclusion with regard to the forthcoming London elections: “I will vote for Labour assembly members, then Green, Lib Dem or something equally silly for mayor, and offer no second preference. If Johnson wins by one vote, I’ll say that was Labour’s fault  for putting forward Livingstone, not mine. We own the politicians. They don’t own us.”

The AWL, which has been denouncing Livingstone for even longer than Cohen, still calls for a Labour vote in the mayoral, as well as GLA, elections;

Vote Livingstone… very critically

By Andrew Smith       

Ken Livingstone has aligned himself with the Occupy movement and attacked the tax-avoiding rich. Now, however, it seems he is one of them himself.

There has been a minor scandal in the media because Livingstone and his wife set up a company to channel money from his media appearances and speeches — allowing them to avoid the 50% income tax rate and pay 20% corporation tax instead.

It’s right that there should be a scandal. It’s a shame it’s so far mostly limited to the press, and limited to the issue of tax-dodging. The real issue here is that Livingstone is a very rich man trying to get richer — not the kind of individual who can seriously represent working-class London.

Nor is it “just” a matter of personal wealth. It’s his policies. In 2008, when Labour chancellor Alistair Darling proposed a trivial tax on foreign financiers, and was backed by the Tories, Livingstone opposed the move. While as London Mayor he never offended the City, or property-developers, he did go out of his way to attack the unions on London Underground.

Livingstone’s record and his policies on a whole range of issues — not just basic “class struggle” ones, but his links to reactionary semi-Islamist forces — rule out the idea that he is a serious left-winger, let alone a socialist. This is abundantly obvious, if you don’t close your eyes to it. Go on Livingstone’s campaign website, for instance, and you immediately confronted with a special page featuring an image of policeman’s helmet and a pledge to increase police numbers.

Unfortunately a huge swathe of the left is closing their eyes. Livingstone’s union backing is — so far — completely uncritical, while the SWP seems to have only published one sentence on the election: “We will be backing Labour’s Ken Livingstone for London mayor” (of course, the SWP sees Livingstone’s Islamist links as a virtue).

We should still work for a Labour victory — despite Livingstone.

However inadequate from a working-class socialist point of view, Livingstone’s policies are different from Johnson’s. He says he will cut fares and reinstate EMAs for London college students. He has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. He opposes more cuts than Johnson does, anyway, and has even supported some strikes.

These differences reflect the underlying reality that Livingstone is the candidate of the labour movement. The fact that the labour movement does not have the political will to impose a better candidate — a candidate who is not a friend of the City and who has not openly encouraged RMT members to scab on their strikes — or even to put more pressure on Livingstone is a reflection of our weakness. We seek to address that.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is openly and unreservedly a servant of the ruling class, committed to class warfare against the working class and the labour movement. He opened his campaign with an Evening Standard interview pledging to bring in driverless trains and smash the Tube unions.

A victory for Labour in the mayor and GLA elections will be a blow, however limited, against the Tory government. We should not trust Livingstone an inch, and organise to exert the maximum pressure on him. But we should do that while working for a Labour election victory.

*******************************************************************************************************************

NB: Even one of Livingstone’s closest media allies is now being mildly critical…but his no.1 cheer-leaders on the ‘far-left’ remain diplomatically silent. The tragedy is that a whole generation of socialists have been encouraged to have illusions in Livingstone, and many are now left very disillusioned indeed.

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