Sunday, 10 April 2016

Brought To Light


The boss of Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the government department overseeing a £10m inquiry into the Panama Papers, was a partner at a top City law firm that acted for Blairmore Holdings and other offshore companies named in the leak.

Edward Troup, executive chair of HMRC since April, is a former partner at Simmons & Simmons, whose clients have included the Panama-registered fund created by David Cameron’s father, Ian. 

The law firm’s name appears on dozens of emails and documents in the Panama Papers in connection with a number of companies registered with Mossack Fonseca, the offshore agent at the centre of the scandal, although HMRC said Troup had not personally dealt with the firm. 

Some correspondence dates back to 2003, when Troup was still a partner. The first emails to Mossack Fonseca regarding Blairmore date from 2005. 

It is understood that Simmons & Simmons was advising Blairmore from 2001.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Troup, Simmons & Simmons or any of its clients, and nothing in the files that indicates Troup personally advised any offshore company registered with Mossack Fonseca. 

Cameron announced on Saturday that HMRC would be working with the National Crime Agency to lead a “world-class” taskforce to investigate allegations of tax dodging and money laundering brought to light by the leak of 11.5 million files from the Panama law firm. 

A unit with initial funding of £10m is being set up, which will also bring together specialists from the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority. Officials have already started investigating some 700 current leads with a link to Panama.

The revelation comes as:

  • Cameron prepares to make a statement to parliament in which he will reject any suggestion of wrongdoing by himself or his father and insist that his government “has done more than any other to take action against corruption in all its forms”.
  • Labour called for a public inquiry into the Panama revelations and a change to parliamentary rules to make it mandatory for MPs to publish details of any offshore holdings.
  • There were suggestions that all MPs should publish their tax details after the unprecedented decision by Cameron to do so over the weekend.
  • A Treasury source insisted that the chancellor, George Osborne, had “never had any offshore shareholdings” and said his income and interests were straightforward but that he had no plans to publish his financial records.

Troup, who described taxation as “legalised extortion” in a 1999 newspaper article, built a career advising corporations on how to reduce their tax bills before leaving Simmons & Simmons to join the civil service in 2004. 

Simmons & Simmons is reported to be among a number of legal practices that received letters last week from the legal watchdog asking them to inspect their files for connections to Mossack Fonseca. 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is understood to have written to Simmons & Simmons asking it to carry out a review. 

Troup worked at the firm from 1997 until 2004, when he left to join the Treasury as head of corporate tax policy. He joined HMRC in 2012 to oversee large corporate tax settlements. 

While working in the City, Troup led the opposition to reforms put forward by Gordon Brown to curb corporate tax avoidance in 1999, putting out a press release headed: “City lawyers call on government to withdraw proposals to tackle tax avoidance.” 

He criticised the proposed laws for giving “wide-reaching” powers to the Inland Revenue. 

The leaked Panama Papers appear to show Simmons & Simmons offices in London and Hong Kong were registered as clients or intermediaries with Mossack Fonseca. 

This means they were able to request certificates or new incorporations on behalf of the ultimate owners of companies. 

Usually, Mossack Fonseca did not deal with company owners directly, but preferred to handle business through intermediaries such as lawyers and accountants. 

For Blairmore, the Panama-registered fund run by Ian Cameron, there is a long string of emails regarding the fund’s decision to stop using bearer shares – anonymous financial instruments that belong to the person holding them in their hand, much like banknotes. 

Though they are legal, bearer shares have been abolished in many countries because they have been used by mobsters and tax evaders for money laundering. 

There is no suggestion that Blairmore was using them for any illegal purpose, and they were common among offshore funds at the time. 

In 2008, when Blairmore was considering a change of jurisdiction, Simmons & Simmons asked Mossack Fonseca for advice on the benefits of other tax havens. 

An email dated 2 April 2008 stated: 

“Blairmore Holdings Inc are considering moving their Panama fund out of Panama into either the Cayman Islands or Bermuda.

“We have been instructed to prepare a memo on the fund industry in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.” 

The fund was founded in the early 1980s and still exists today.

The Guardian has confirmed that in 30 years, Blairmore has never paid a penny of tax in the UK on its profits. There is no suggestion that Blairmore operated illegally. 

An HMRC spokesperson said: 

“Before joining the civil service in 2004, Edward Troup had a successful career in the private sector, during the course of which he dealt with many companies. 

“He can confirm that he never had any dealings with Mossack Fonseca, was unaware of the company until recently, and that none of the individuals or organisations named so far were clients that he advised. 

“Edward Troup’s role in HMRC has never involved responsibility for operational activities or direct dealings with companies on their tax affairs.

“In any event, the governance in place at HMRC means that any commissioners who have a potential conflict of interest would exclude themselves from any investigation or settlement involving a taxpayer with which they had had dealings in their previous careers.” 

Simmons & Simmons did not respond to a request for comment.

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