Watching an old lady weighed down by age and a lot of ill-gotten jewellery, pretend she is above politics, giving a speech of ideas that won’t see the light of day, written by an Etonian bounder and political charlatan, doesn’t make it any easier to forget Scotland lost a chance at liberty. There is learning in losing, says the proverb, but it doesn’t make us any smarter. Half of Scots love the Royal family. Surrounded by gold leaf, God’s waiting room for the dying, her throne might as well be the stolen gold toilet. The image condemns the sleazy English class system rotten to the core.
There is nothing good in the British state, or if there is, Westminster won’t let us have it.
Queen Elizabeth II is rumoured to be above politics, a prescription in deceit we are asked to swallow on a regular basis. She interfered in Scotland’s independence; the mere fact She memorised a one-liner suggested to Her by Her private secretaries from a request by David Cameron, shows us that to succeed, lower your standards. About to lose a large part of Her estate, She might have well screamed from atop a Munro ‘No surrender!’
Her son who sat next to Her as she delivered the fateful speech, Prince Charles, has made a life’s career out of demanding politicians do as he thinks best. And through Her governor General, She got removed from office one of Australia’s most progressive premiers, Gough Whitlam, a man who advocated cutting ties with his colonial masters.
Lizzie’s ethics don’t stretch to paying Her taxes in full, and those She does pay are easily offset by the taxes we pay to help Her hide money. She has to pay someone to do it. Like the elderly, She has carers, secretaries, advisers, they do the dirty work. “Take this gold bar, Jeeves, hide it where my Subjects cannot find it – and one is not talking about the under-stairs pantry.”
How odd. Normally, if you hide money in a tax haven to invest in British property you are called a gangster, and usually Russian.
The Royal leak
A huge leak of financial documents revealed how the powerful and ultra-wealthy, including the Queen’s private estate, secretly invest vast amounts of cash in offshore tax havens. This, from one of the mot subsided, expensive royal families in Europe – an estimated minimum of £250 million a year.
When the news first hit the fan, so to speak, it was everywhere, but within a week quietly shelved. The leak, dubbed the Paradise Papers, contained 13.4 million documents, mostly from one leading firm in offshore finance.
The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to oversee the investigation. (Last I heard was the Guardian was studying them – many months ago.) Lizzie’s loot formed only a small part of the Paradise Papers.
The papers are full of stories focusing on how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use complex structures of trusts, foundations and shell companies to protect their cash from tax officials or hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.
The Paradise Papers show that about £10 million ($13 million USD) of the Queen’s private money is invested offshore. It was put into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda by the Duchy of Lancaster, a fund with over £520 million assets which provides Lizzie with an income and handles investments for her private estate.
UK – King of corruption
Now, because the United Kingdom is one of the most corrupt places on earth it covers its nefarious practises by anointing offshore enclaves as honey hives. They become legal banks, so legal they don’t need to publish figures of the largesse they get or what they do with it. Over a period of years Westminster parliament passed legislation making key places and countries legally free to launder ill-gotten gains of the rich and the crooked.
Among those the tax havens UK administrates ‘at a distance’ and those is does not own outright are: Gibraltar, Andorra, the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, the Cook Islands, Hong Kong, The Isle of Man, Mauritius, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Panama, St. Kitts, and Nevis. Perhaps a condition of independence is you become a tax haven and not a burden on the Treasury.
The excuse given is tawdry – British overseas territories have ‘their own legal systems independent of the UK’. Anything approved to hide money is not illegal. Very convenient. Self-serving too. You can use that logic to say the same of invasions passed by parliament, banks awarding huge bonuses when subsidised by the taxpayer, or wrenching family from family to deport them under immigration law – it stinks to high heaven and in any other book is fraud and a crime.
Nevertheless, I am obliged to add small print: there is nothing illegal in Her Majesty’s investments and no suggestion that the Queen is avoiding tax, but questions may be asked about whether a Monarch should be investing offshore – how is that patriotic?
The hands off dodge
At first the Duchy said it had no idea of the existence of its 12-year investment. There’s a thing; so much money one cannot see the edges of it. The Duchy said it was not involved in decisions made by funds and there is no suggestion the Queen had any knowledge of the specific investments made on her behalf. The hive shift the queen bee smartly to a new place away from danger.
The Duchy has in the past said it gives “ongoing consideration regarding any of its acts or omissions that could adversely impact the reputation” of the Queen, who it says takes “a keen interest” in the estate. How’s that? – you can be the world’s richest woman and still feel the need to avoid tax, tax that is meant to help the citizens of your own nations. Queen Elizabeth is the wealthiest woman on Earth, with a £6.6 billion fortune which grows by as much as 25 per cent a year.
Push and prod
With a bit of pushing and prodding, the Duchy has also disclosed investments in “a few overseas funds”, including one in Ireland, but once the press found other things to interest them – such as the disastrous Brexit where free of EU rules even more rich will avoid tax – the issue fell out of the news. No one knows details of where the money is being held – a press statement from the palace said funds had been ‘redeemed’ – but no evidence was provided.
Let me understand this; the Queen knows nothing about her investments yet takes a keen interest in them. How is it then that staff who made the investments are not brought to book and summarily fired?
This begs the question, how is the decision to hide money made, who instructs it hidden and who approves the result? BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell, intensely disliked by Prince Charles, pitching for a job as comedian, says it is extraordinary and puzzling that the Queen’s advisers could have felt that it was appropriate – for somebody whose reputation is based on setting a good example – to invest in offshore funds.
These funds are, by their very nature, a costly service to use, open to the mega-wealthy, not to the rest of us. A nation needs a minimum amount of tax to see it through the fiscal year. When conglomerates, companies and rich individuals find ways to keep their money from the taxman we all pay in higher taxes and reduced services. That old maxim of Tory ideology – less government – works for them, not for us.
This is terrible – let’s do nothing
Now and again opposition politicians call for ‘something to be done’ but without any great force. The list of those dodging tax crosses cover good socialists, as well a national leaders of big nations, such as the Israel, Canada and Russia. The UK’s frantic dumping Europe is propelled in great part by a need to avoid the EU’s clamp-down on tax havens.
How about a public inquiry? Last time that was made it was rejected by Tory Theresa. At a CBI conference the then Prime Minister Theresa May refused point blank to commit to a public inquiry. She also did not answer direct questions asked whether she would insist on British overseas territories publishing a list of who owns companies and trusts registered in crown dependencies. In a true blue Tory brush-off – some of my best friends use tax havens, such as my hubby – May said the UK government was working with its dependencies “to ensure we’re seeing greater transparency.”
Ah, that word, transparent meaning opaque.
The excuse given by offshore financial centres for their activities reads as pure hypocrisy. If they did not exist, there would be “no constraint on taxes governments might levy”. They “do not sit on hoards of cash, but act as agents that help pump money around the globe”. (Make sure da cops don’t find da goods on us, Tony.)
I’ll interpret: we never ask clients where the money came from or how it was made, but even if earned legitimately we ensure the community where it ought to have been declared is robbed of the right to see it spent there for the common good.
The question in my mind is, to attract big business to Scotland on legal and ethical terms, will the SNP institute a policy of outlawing tax havens, or will we need a second party dedicated to corporate honesty and not greed, an integral part of their manifesto?
As for thin Lizzie – the queen is very old, I’d never let her post-date a cheque. Even her doctors have died. The only marvel is she is still alive. She was born in the days when a phone ringing scared the hell out of you. Scotland should begin independence declaring itself a republic. It has nothing to lose but bad habits.
NOTE: Prince Andy Pandy – ‘Sex and the Single Girl: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-Li