Christian Aid urges Cameron to 'clean up' UK tax havens

By agency reporter
May 4, 2016

Christian Aid campaigners from Witney gathered on 30 April 2016 in the Prime Minister’s constituency outside properties which are now owned in Jersey and the British Virgin Islands, to demand that David Cameron finally gets tough with the UK’s secretive tax havens.

“We’re here in the Prime Minister’s constituency to remind him that people around the world are suffering because he has failed to stop UK tax havens facilitating tax evasion and other serious crimes”, said Christian Aid’s Campaigns Strategy Lead Helen Collinson.

“Mr Cameron promised to put the UK’s own house in order in 2013 but three years later, we are still waiting for UK tax havens to reveal who really owns the hundreds of thousands of companies they host, some of which are used in tax evasion and corruption.

“The leaked Panama Papers have revealed to everyone what powerful people and companies get up to when they can hide their tracks.

“David Cameron has just two weeks to clean up the UK-controlled tax havens before he hosts an international Anti-Corruption Summit in London. If he fails to take the necessary action it would leave a gaping hole in his credibility as a leader in the fight against corruption.”

Ms Collinson added: “Fortunately, there is a very simple solution: David Cameron has the power to require UK tax havens to create public registers of the real owners of the companies they host, just as the UK itself is doing.

“Mr Cameron has repeatedly stated why companies with hidden owners are so dangerous to people and honest businesses everywhere. Now is the time for him to follow through on his promises .”

Also at the Witney gathering was Filipino economist Filomeno Santa Ana III, who said people in the Philippines and other developing countries would benefit if UK tax havens shed light on companies’ real owners.

“Secrecy is used to conceal crimes that hurt real people,” he warned. “Public registers of beneficial owners in UK tax havens will help our fight in the Philippines for tax justice and our struggle against corruption.”

A scattering of properties in Witney are owned by companies incorporated by tax havens, according to a database created by Private Eye magazine and property title information in the UK Land Registry.  For instance, the registered owner of Witney’s Marriotts Walk shopping centre, which hosts high street name retailers including Debenhams, New Look and Accessorize, is a company (Rreef Witney Limited) incorporated in Jersey. Jersey is a UK Crown Dependency that is ultimately controlled by the UK.

Similarly, the registered owner of a shop at 24-26 Witney High Street is a company (Hobart International Properties Ltd) incorporated in the British Virgin Islands – a UK Overseas Territory that is ultimately controlled by the UK.

There is no suggestion that any of the companies or individuals involved with either property have done anything wrong. It is legal to buy UK property using a company incorporated in a tax haven. However, the fact that these and other properties in Witney are now owned by companies in UK secretive tax havens helps to illustrate the global reach of UK tax havens.

At present, UK tax havens allow companies incorporated on their shores to hide the flesh-and-blood individuals (or ‘beneficial owners’) who really own and control them.  Christian Aid recognises that some jurisdictions are better than others. For example, Jersey does at least currently collect information on beneficial owners in a central registry whereas the British Virgin Islands currently collects no information.

But all are in contrast to the UK, which  launches its public register of companies’ real owners in June, in a move that led the rest of the world.

* Download the Private Eye database here

* Christian Aid http://www.christianaid.org.uk/index.aspx

[Ekk/4]

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