Tuesday 17 July 2018

'Panama' pressure piles on Cameron and Osborne

Protesters outside of the Parliament building in Reykjavik, Iceland, in the wake of the Panama Papers crisis which saw prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson step aside Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Protesters outside of the Parliament building in Reykjavik, Iceland, in the wake of the Panama Papers crisis which saw prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson step aside Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
British Chancellor George Osborne dodged questions on the issue Photo: Dylan Martinez/PA Wire

Ashley Cowburn

David Cameron, his wife and their children will not benefit in future from any offshore funds or trusts, a spokesman said yesterday as the British prime minister and his chancellor faced more questions over family tax affairs.

Cameron's late father Ian was among the tens of thousands of people named in leaked documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca which showed how the world's rich and powerful are able to stash their wealth and avoid taxes.

Blairmore, a company set up by Ian Cameron in Panama and the Bahamas, later transferred its operations to Ireland in 2010.

British chancellor George Osborne also came under intense pressure yesterday, with politicians and reporters claiming he was evading questions on whether he has personally benefited from offshore funds.

During an ITV interview, he was asked: "Do you now or will you in the future benefit from any offshore funds?"

Mr Osborne responded by saying that members of the Commons record all their interests in the register of members' interests.

He added: "But I thought it was very striking you had a Labour member of parliament this morning praising the prime minister's leadership home and abroad on this issue of tax evasion where frankly this British government has done more than any previous British government to make sure they pay the taxes that are owed."

He was then asked a second time "are you going to benefit at all?" and again he referred to the government's record on issues of tax avoidance.

"As I've said all of our interests as ministers and MPs are declared in the register of members' interests and we've made our position very clear," he said. "As I said, this Conservative government has done more that any Labour government or any previous government to tackle tax evasion, to tackle tax avoidance, to get money into the exchequer that is owed to the public."

When the ITV interviewer attempted to ask another question, Mr Osborne said "thank you" and ended the interview.

A source close to the chancellor, speaking after the ITV interview, said: "George has no offshore interests, in shares or anything else, and as he made clear earlier all his interests are properly declared in the register of interests."

The source also denied that Mr Osborne had terminated the interview, adding the interviewer simply asked more questions than had initially been agreed.

It came as Mr Cameron hit back at critics as Downing Street issued further clarification of his tax affairs. He had been under pressure to give a clear explanation of how he, or his immediate family, stood to benefit from Blairmore.

After having at first described it as a private matter, Cameron's office said earlier this week that he and his family did not benefit from any such funds at present. Cameron also said he did not own any shares or have any offshore funds.

But his failure to say whether he or his family would benefit in future only intensified media speculation, with the story splashed across many newspaper front pages on yesterday.

"There are no offshore funds or trusts which the prime minister, Mrs Cameron or their children will benefit from in future," a spokesman for Cameron said.

'The Daily Telegraph' reported that Ian Cameron's fund moved its operations to Ireland in 2010, the year Cameron became prime minister, as the directors believed it was about to "come under more scrutiny".

Cameron has cast himself as a champion in the fight against tax evasion in British-linked territories such as the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, but the opposition Labour Party has said the Panama Papers show the government has failed to tackle the issue.

Richard Burgon MP, Labour's shadow treasury minister, responding to the leaked Panama Papers, said: "As for the prime minister's involvement, the story seemingly changes by the hour with four different statements already.

"Far from clearing up the matter, questions remain and now it seems like George Osborne is being dragged into the row. It's time for the drip, drip of revelations to end.

"When it comes to ensuring tax fairness, the Conservatives clearly have a problem from top to bottom in their party. They say one thing and do another. If they can't even get their own house in order, what faith can we have that they are going to properly enforce the rules and hold the banks to account?"

The Chancellor was interviewed on the issue as politicians across the globe came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the leaked cache of Panama Papers from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. In the biggest data leak so far, 11 million documents were passed to the German newspaper 'Süddeutsche Zeitung', which shared them with 107 media organisations around the world. The Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has "stepped aside for an unspecified period of time" following the leak.

Irish Independent

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