The Conservative Party has been trying to claim it has cracked down on tax avoidance – but now we know that one of the party’s most generous donors has been avoiding paying his due since the turn of the century.
That is the behaviour of Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, we discovered, after the following was revealed:
Lord Ashcroft, one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors, faces fresh questions over his offshore affairs after the Paradise Papers revealed a previously unknown trust sheltering his vast overseas wealth.
Scores of emails and financial statements chart the inner workings of the Bermuda-based Punta Gorda Trust from its creation in 2000, just after he became a peer.
The documents run until 2016, when the offshore law firm Appleby, which acted as trustee, terminated the relationship, a decision questioned at the time by Ashcroft’s representatives.
The value of the trust fluctuated, but a leaked financial statement recorded it as having assets of $450.4m (£341m) in 2006.
There is nothing illegal about the trust, but its existence could prove awkward for Theresa May. She faces having to square donations from Ashcroft with the Conservative pledge to bring transparency to the offshore industry.
As with the Queen’s involvement – and that of many other individuals and organisations implicated by the Paradise Papers, the issue is not legality. It is morality.
Lord Ashcroft promised to relinquish his non-domiciliary status after his ennoblement in 2000, but had still failed to do so after the 2010 general election – which many believe was tipped in favour of the Tories by his generous (untaxed?) contributions. He had remained a “non-dom”, meaning his earnings in foreign countries were not taxed in the UK.
But leaked documents have revealed that he never relinquished his “non-dom” status and continued to avoid tax.
Labour’s John McDonnell had this to say about it:
If the identification of Lord Ashcroft, a major Tory party funder, on the list and if the allegations of tax avoidance are true, it means that the Prime Minister has questions to answer. What did she and the Conservative Party know about Ashcroft’s tax affairs and what due diligence checks were applied before she agreed to the Conservative Party accepting significant donations from him? Questions will inevitably be asked about the Prime Minister’s judgement about allowing him to return to being a major party donor. Many individual Conservative MPs and candidates will also need to answer what checks they made also before they accepted donations to their campaigns in their constituencies.
Others were more blunt:
Lord Ashcroft misled public and avoided tax #ParadisePapers
— Paul Lewis (@paullewismoney) November 5, 2017
— Nick Reeves 3.5% #FBPE (@nickreeves9876) November 5, 2017
And Lord Ashcroft himself? On the BBC’s Panorama, he appeared to have nothing to say other than, “Oh dear.”
This is strange, because, only days ago, he tweeted some very pertinent advice on how to avoid worry:
Was he trying to tell us his tax affairs are none of our business? If so, he failed – because they are our business.
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