Corbyn tax avoidance questions puts Jersey in the spotlight

JERSEY is in the firing line in a dispute between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the government of Bermuda over an alleged tax avoidance scheme involving multi-million-pound jets.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Corbyn is calling on the UK government to investigate a scheme involving the Isle of Man aircraft registry after details were leaked by hackers who targeted a law firm with a strong presence in Jersey.

Last week, financial and legal services firm Appleby, which has offices in both Jersey and Bermuda, admitted that some of its data was ‘compromised’ last year and it was later approached by investigative journalists with allegations.

The BBC’s Panorama programme will feature its investigation into the matter at 6 pm on Sunday. The leak has been dubbed the ‘Panama Papers 2’ by some media commentators.

During Prime Minister’s question time this week, Mr Corbyn called on UK Prime Minister Theresa May to investigate claims that business jets were being imported through the Isle of Man to avoid tax, which he says were revealed by the Appleby data leak.

‘The Isle of Man VAT avoidance allegations are part of a wider leak from the Bermuda-based law firm said to be of a similar scale to the Panama Papers,’ Mr Corbyn said in Parliament.

‘Will the Prime Minister commit Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to fully investigate all evidence of UK tax avoidance and evasion from this leak and prosecute where feasible?’

Mrs May did not respond directly to Mr Corbyn’s question, instead electing to defend her government’s record on clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion.

‘We have been leading the world,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘It was a Conservative prime minister that put this on the agenda of the G7 and the G20 – international action against tax avoidance and tax evasion.’

Appleby has claimed that it did not advise on the importation of business jets to the Isle of Man and this was in fact handled by its former fiduciary business, which was rebranded as Estera after being sold to Bridgepoint Capital in 2015.

A spokesperson for Estera said, however, that it did not provide any advice ‘legal, tax, structuring or otherwise’ to its clients.

It is believed that a number of large media organisations are preparing to release information gathered from the data hack, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which spearheaded the Panama Papers investigation.

Last year, the Panama Papers data leak exposed 11.5 million documents from the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, which until recently had an office in Jersey opposite Cyril Le Marquand house, revealing billions of pounds worth of confidential transactions through offshore jurisdictions.

In response to Mr Corbyn’s comments in Parliament, the Bermudan Government said that he was ‘misinformed’ and said that Appleby was based in Jersey, not Bermuda.

‘The Government of Bermuda notes the statement by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition in the UK parliament, which was misinformed,’ a spokeswoman said.

‘The Government of Bermuda can confirm that Appleby Global is not “Bermuda-based”: its global management is based in Jersey.

‘Bermuda is a recognised leader in international tax compliance and tax transparency with 114 tax treaty partners.

‘The opposition leader may not be aware that Bermuda was recently confirmed by the French government as a “white-listed” jurisdiction due to its excellent work on international tax transparency.’

Lynn Capie, Appleby’s global head of communications, said that the company did not have a specific headquarters in any jurisdiction.

‘We are a global organisation comprising ten offices which have equal prominence within the global business,’ she said.

‘We do not have a headquarters. It is not correct to state that Appleby has its headquarters in Bermuda or Jersey.’

She added: ‘There was no definitive evidence from the forensic investigation that any data on our Jersey server had been compromised.’

The Isle of Man’s Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, was interviewed by Panorama this week. A web page promoting Jersey’s own aircraft registry appears to have been removed from Appleby’s website. It is not known why, however.

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