A huge new leak has revealed the tax secrets of the super-rich and powerful. Dubbed the “Paradise Papers” after the idyllic locations involved, 13.4m documents expose the financial affairs of those who squirrel away huge amounts of cash in offshore tax havens.
High-profile individuals implicated so far include the Queen, whose Duchy of Lancaster estate invested around £10m of funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, the Tory donor and former deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, who has been accused of ignoring rules on his offshore trust, and Donald Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who has shares in a shipping firm linked to Russia.
These are just the first in a series of embarrassing disclosures that will continue throughout the week.
While there isn’t much actual law-breaking involved so far, the scale and timing of this leak makes it more significant than last year’s Panama Papers prequel. Clearly not much has changed in terms of tax reform since then, when there was relatively little political fall-out considering even the Prime Minister at the time was implicated.
Though that was only in April last year, the UK is a different country now. We live in a new context where austerity is questioned on all sides, and inequality has become a powerful political driver.
The British public is no longer as likely to grin and bear the double standard that means the head of state gets to protect her money from UK tax officials, but those whom the state is supposed to protect are sanctioned if they turn up two minutes late to an appointment at the Jobcentre.
Only last week, Jeremy Corbyn used PMQs to lambast the Conservative government’s shortcomings on tackling tax avoidance. With Britain one of the world’s top two biggest channels for corporate tax avoidance, having strong links to tax havens (many of which are its overseas territories and Crown dependencies), expect this line of attack finally to have some traction.