Paradise Papers: Queen's private estate '˜invested millions in offshore haven'
The Queen has been accused of having her personal fortune invested in an offshore tax haven as an explosive leak of financial documents laid bare the financial affairs of the global elite.
A disclosure of 13.4 million documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, reportedly tie major companies and political figures to secretive overseas arrangements.
Among those said to be named in the tranche of material is former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft and US president Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, who is reportedly linked to a Russian firm.
The Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of the Queen, was found to have millions of pounds invested in offshore arrangements.
Around £10 million from the Queen’s private fund was paid into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda between 2004 and 2005, according to reports.
A small part of the cash was traced to a lender which has previously been criticised for ripping off poor customers.
The Queen voluntarily pays tax on any income she receives from the Duchy.
A spokesman for the estate said: “We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds.
“All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate.”
The Paradise Papers represent the biggest data leak since the Panama Papers release last year and have been analysed by almost 100 media organisations.
Hundreds of individuals and companies reportedly have their overseas investments exposed by the files, which are also said to reveal that major global companies have exploited offshore schemes to avoid tax.
The political reverberations of the release began to be felt almost immediately.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the data “proves” that “there’s one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax.”
His concern was echoed by Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said senior officials from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) would appear before the panel on Monday to explain its plan of action.
First obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, the documents stem from two offshore service providers and company registries from 19 tax havens, The Guardian reports.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists oversaw the project, it is claimed.
A small portion of the Queen’s investments - £3,208 - was found to have bought a holding in the lender BrightHouse, the BBC and The Guardian reported.
The rent-to-buy firm has previously been accused of exploiting customers with high interest rates, but maintains it does responsible business.
Cash ended up in BrightHouse via a company called Dover Street VI Cayman Fund LP, in which the Duchy of Lancaster reportedly invested 7.5 million US dollars (£5.73m) in 2005.
The organisation bought an interest in a project involved in the takeover of BrightHouse and Threshers, which went bust.
A further £5 million was invested in 2004 in the Bermuda-based Jubilee Absolute Return Fund Ltd.
The Dover Street investment is said to form only 0.3% of the total value of the Duchy.
Beyond the UK, the White House was hit by fresh claims that it has ties to Russia.
Commerce secretary Mr Ross is allegedly shown by the papers to have cash in a shipping company which deals with Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
The Russian firm Navigator, in which the offshore investments are reportedly held, has a partnership with Sibur, a gas company co-owned by Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Mr Putin’s daughter.
Social media, technology and sports companies are also said to have money sheltered in overseas havens, alongside a line-up of A-list celebrities.
The Government responded to the disclosure by defending its record on combating tax avoidance and evasion.
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “Since 2010, the Government has secured an additional £160 billion, more than the annual UK NHS budget, for our vital public services by tackling tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance.
“This includes more than £2.8 billion from those trying to hide money abroad to avoid paying what they owe.
“There are 26,000 HMRC staff tackling tax avoidance and evasion, and we have provided an extra £800 million to fund their efforts.
“A fair tax system is a critical and key part of our plan to build a fairer society, and we are clear that everyone must pay what is due, at the right time.”
Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, the former chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said she believed the Queen would be “completely shocked” to learn how her funds had been invested.
“Tax havens aren’t just repositories for people to hide their wealth. They are also repositories for money laundering, for organised crime, bribery and all sorts of nefarious acts,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think the Queen herself would be completely shocked to find her advisers have used tax havens in which to invest their money and that her reputation has been sullied by the actions of the tax advisers.”