Yesterday, like many of you I read how a quarter of the UK’s largest companies had subsidiaries in Tax Havens. The Guardian reported that,
The 100 largest groups registered on the London Stock Exchange have more than 34,000 subsidiaries and joint ventures between them. A quarter of these, over 8,000, are located in jurisdictions that offer low tax rates or require limited disclosure to other tax authorities.
The banking sector has the largest number of tax haven companies, with the big four UK banks – HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Lloyds – having a total of 1,649 offshore subsidiaries. They have the largest number of companies registered in the Cayman Islands, with Barclays alone registering 174 subsidiaries and ventures there.
All these numbers came from a report by the charity ActionAid. The Guardian summarized the data and the raw spreadsheet which is less friendly but far more revealing is here. Like you I was disgusted by the fact that just 4 UK banks had 1,649 off-shore, tax-haven subsidiary companies. But behind the numbers what always interests me more are the places and the people who run it all. So I did a little digging.
I decided to look at Barclays and its 174 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands. First one of the 174 companies I looked at was Bors Investments Ltd. Bors is listed as registered at PO Box 309 Ugland House, Grand Cayman. A PO Box seemed odd for a subsidiary of the mighty Barclays but I went on. Next I looked at was Braven Investments Ltd. It too was registered at PO Box 309 in Ugland House. Must be quite a box, I thought. -I skipped down the list first to Mintaka Investments and then to Azzoli and finally to Zemedee Investments Ltd. They were all registered at Box 309 at Ugland House.
In fact 18,857 companies and ‘entities’ are registered there and according to the Wikipedia entry
“… has for years been linked to tax evasion. During his campaign, US President Barack Obama referred to Ugland House as the “biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world”.
So what was Ugland House I asked? Was it a corporate ants nest of furious global banking? Actually it looks more like a small hotel or well heeled club. You can see a picture and read a PR puff about how it has been cruelly misunderstood and unfairly vilified here. The occupiers of Ugland House are Maples and Calder, a law firm who describe themselves on their corporate web site as,
… a leading international law firm advising financial, institutional and business clients around the world on the laws of Cayman Islands, Ireland and the British Virgin Islands.
Now what is it about the laws of The Caymans and British Virgin Islands that banks are so keen to be advised about? Road safety? Well according to the PR puff piece Ugland House Explained the people in that house are helping 18,857 companies to,
play a crucial role in the worldwide economic recovery as a whole.
Good old Ugland House!
I did also notice however that Maples and Calder had just appointed a new CEO called Jude Scott who had previously,
“…served on various Cayman Islands Government and private sector committees, including the Cayman Islands Society of Professional Accountants, the Cayman Islands Financial Services Council, the Education Council, the Insolvency Rules Committee and the Stock Exchange.”
And it also turned out Jude Scott had also previously been,
“…an audit partner at the Cayman Islands office of Ernst & Young, Jude retired in 2008 after spending over 23 years with firm, specialising in the audits of investment funds, investment companies, banks and insurance companies.
The tax penny dropped.
Now I do have to be fair here, not all the companies I looked at were registered at Ugland some, like Abellio and Aspin were registered to Walkers SPV Limited at Walkers House. Walkers House is HQ of the leading Caymans law firm, Walkers. Their web site says their offices are in Caymans, British Virgin Islands, The US state of Delaware, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, London, Jersey and Singapore. The role call of the worlds tax haven, tax ‘minimizing’, banking secrecy and money laundering centres.
Not, you understand, that I would ever suggest that any law firm or individual laywer would ever be involved with money laundering or with anything illegal at all for that matter.
At this point I returned to Braven Investment Ltd of PO Box 309 Ugland House. When I looked a little more I found that Braven has three directors. Mr N.R. Brand, K.Lykhman and Mr S.J. Ullman. Mr Brand was also a director of 27 other companies most of which were on the list of Tax Haven (often Cayman Island) subsidiaries.
The list was:
Alymere Investments Two Ltd, Antilia, Barclays, Aldersgate, Calthorpe, Cecrus, Cedron, Claudas, Equity value No. 1, Forest Road, Forest, Gallo, Gironde, Iris, Long Island International, Mintaka investments No.3, Mintaka No.4, Murray House, Oberon, Pyrus, Pythis, Raglan, Razzoli, Stellans, Tungshan, Zane, Zanone, Zemedee and Zepherine all of them ‘Investment Ltd’. A busy man. Let’s say an 80 hour week, that works out at just under three hours for each company in a week. And that’s assuming Mr Brand has no other work to do for Barclays at all.
His fellow directors had a mere 11 directorships each to deal with. So I felt perhaps Mr Brand was the main man in this and if so I wanted to learn a little more. I found Mr Nicholas Richard Brand is listed on another company Zemedee Investments Ltd, as a ‘Banker’ who works for Barclays Capital. That’s him on the left when he was doing a Barclays 10K charity run to raise money for the RNLI in 2010.
What a convoluted and dysfunctional moral world bankers live in, I thought. Here was Mr Brand helping to raise money to help provide services for Lifeboats. Yet he spent his professional life helping at least 27 investment companies to avoid paying the UK taxes thus helping to ensure that the RNLI would need to raise money to replace cuts in government services for Lifeboats.
Now of course Mr Brand doesn’t live in the Cayman Islands and doesn’t work there either. So whatever work he does for all those Investment companies it doesn’t happen at Ugland House. In fact as far as I can see Mr Brand works at Barlcays Bank world HQ which is at 1 Churchill Place in Canary Wharf.
So it would seem all the banking and investing decisions are made in London. But the company is in the Cayman Islands. This will mean investment profits will be declared and taxed in the Caymans and not in London even though the work was done in London by someone who enjoys all the civil and social amenities and facilities paid for by the British tax payer. Thus his employers, the investment companies, benefit from the amenities of this country, such as safe streets, health service, public transport, road system, and a thousand other things all paid from the taxes, but then the company and therefore its beneficiaries refuse to pay their fair share towards all those amentities. They are therefore, in my view, parasites upon the rest of us and upon civil life of the country and Mr Nicholas Brand helps them.
Of course Mr Brand isn’t alone. There are thousands of Mr Brands busy as bees helping tens of thousands of companies not pay taxes in the countries where the work is being done to make those companies and the people who own them that bit richer. To my mind, people like Mr Brand need to think about what they are achieving for whose benefit and to whose detriment. They need to wonder how those of us who do pay for all the things that make this country the wonderful and civilized place it is – to me it is still wonderful and still civilized – how we feel about people we think of as tax cheats and those who help them to cheat.