In Depth

Paradise Papers: 15 surprising things we’ve learned

In Depth: Prince Charles, Lewis Hamilton and Apple come under scrutiny

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The Paradise Papers data leak of more than 13 million documents - believed to be the second-largest in history, after 2016’s Panama Papers - is a revealing look at the offshore tax dealings favoured by politicians, athletes, musicians and royals.

Here are 15 of the most surprising things we’ve learned so far:

Oxford and Cambridge invest ‘tens of millions’ offshore

The universities of Cambridge and Oxford - along with nearly half of all Oxbridge colleges - “have secretly invested tens of millions of pounds in offshore funds”, says The Guardian. In 2006, Oxford paid £2.6m, and Cambridge £1.3m, into a Guernsey-based private equity firm that invested money in Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company. 

Prince Charles’ estate had a stake in his friend's offshore firm

Prince Charles’ private estate invested in Burmuda-based company Sustainable Forestry Ltd while the prince was lobbying to amend climate change policy - creating a possible conflict of interest had the offshore firm benefitted financially from the Prince’s lobbying, the BBC reports. 

Corbyn called a ‘hypocrite’ following Labour councils revelation

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that the Queen might want to apologise for her offshore tax arrangements. But Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable accused the Labour Party boss of being a “hypocrite” after The Times reported that two Labour-led councils avoided paying more than £12m in UK tax by purchasing property through offshore firms.

Glencore made a loan to secure mining rights in the Congo

Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore loaned an Israeli businessman previously accused of corruption $45m (£34m) in 2009 and asked him to secure Glencore mining rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Paradise Papers show. Dan Gertler, reportedly has a “close relationship” with the DR Congo government, the BBC says. Gertler and Glencore deny any wrongdoing.

British celebs cause controversy with Barbados homes

British stars including former footballer Gary Lineker have bought property via offshore arrangements that have caused controversy in Barbados, reports The Guardian. The celebrities use “offshore companies that allow them to avoid paying local taxes when they sell their property”, says the newspaper.

Apple moved parts of empire to Jersey after Ireland tightened its tax rules

The world’s most profitable company shifted some of its operations to the Channel Island of Jersey in a complex rearrangement that allowed Apple to pay an “ultra-low” rate of tax on hundreds of billions in profits held outside the US. The move came after criticism of Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland. In 2013, a bipartisan US Senate committee pilloried the company for seeking “the holy grail of tax avoidance”, The Guardian reports.

Lewis Hamilton reportedly avoided VAT on private jet

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, who reportedly has a net worth of around £131m, received a VAT refund of £3.3m when his £16.5m Bombardier Challenger 605 jet was imported into the Isle of Man in 2013, the BBC reports. 

Peer who defended tax avoidance has Bahamas trust fund

James Sassoon, a Conservative peer, is a beneficiary of a Bahamas-based trust fund that has “sheltered a family fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars from tax since 1957”, The Guardian says. In 2008, the trust held funds worth almost $250m (£190m). Sassoon has defended tax avoidance during House of Lords debates.

Trump’s commerce secretary has ties to Russia

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross owns a stake in a firm that does business with a gas company owned in part by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. Ross told the BBC there was “nothing whatsoever improper” about the relationship.

Justin Trudeau aide may have cost Canada millions

Stephen Bronfman, chief fundraiser for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, is linked to offshore schemes that may have cost Canada millions of dollars in taxes, the BBC says. The revelations will come as an embarrassment to Trudeau, who has campaigned against tax loopholes and havens.

Bono’s Lithuanian retail therapy

In what might be one of the oddest match-ups revealed in the Paradise Papers, the documents show that the U2 frontman owned a share in a shopping centre in the Lithuanian city of Utena (population 28,000), ABC News says. Bono part-owned a Malta-based property company that bought the £5.1m mall from its Lithuanian owners in 2007. A spokeswoman for the singer said he was a “minority, passive” shareholder.

The Queen had investments in an off-license

It is well known that Her Majesty enjoys a tipple, but the news that one the Queen’s private estates, the Duchy of Lancaster, owned investments in now-defunct wine and spirit suppliers Threshers comes as a surprise. Some money from the Duchy also ended up invested in rent-to-buy store BrightHouse, which has faced accusations that its mark-ups exploit the vulnerable.

Russia spends big on Facebook and Twitter

The Kremlin’s involvement in Facebook and Twitter have been a hot topic lately, and the controversy is likely to be stoked by the revelation that millions of dollars invested in the internet titans can be traced back to state-controlled Russian firms. VTB bank paid $191m (£146m) for a stake in Twitter in 2011, while a subsidiary of state energy giant Gazprom was involved in lucrative deal to acquire Facebook shares, The Independent and other media reports.

Lord Ashcroft isn’t keen to answer questions

Conservative Party grandee Lord Ashcroft has been named as one of the wealthy Brits taking advantage of offshore banking - but he avoided questions by making an undignified escape into a toilet. A video clip that quickly went virals shows a BBC reporter questioning the peer about his offshore accounts. Lord Ashcroft refuses to answer before finally giving the journalist the slip by ducking into a men’s bathroom.

Ravindra Kishore Sinha’s vow of silence

An MP for India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is one of more than 700 Indians named in the Paradise Paper files, but when a journalist caught up with him in his car, Kishore Sinha had an excuse for keeping his mouth shut. The MP scribbled a note that read: “I am on a vow of silence for seven days.”

 

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