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tv   BBC News  BBC News  November 5, 2017 7:00pm-7:31pm GMT

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this is bbc news with a special programme as the first results are released of a special investigation into the offshore tax secrets of some of the world's richest and most powerful people — it follows a leak of documents known as the paradise papers. the bbc panorama programme has discovered that millions of pounds of the queen's private money is invested in offshore funds based in the cayman islands and bermuda by her private estate, the duchy of lancaster. the revelation comes from a cache of more than 13 million secret documents — one tax expert says it's likely to embarrass buckingham palace. the papers also disclose how donald trump's commerce secretary has business links with russian allies of president putin who are subject to us sanctions and the spotlight is on the conservative party donor lord ashcroft: the files suggest he could face a tax bill of tens of millions because of the way he may have used an offshore trust.
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do you have tens of millions in an offshore trust that you secretly control? does that mean you can avoid millions in tax through that trust? why don't you talk to me, it would be great to hear your view? over the next half an hour, this bbc news special programme will report on the first revelations of the paradise papers — and the issues they raise about the secretive world of offshore finance and tax avoidance. good evening and welcome to bbc news. reporting on one
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of the biggest ever leaks of offshore secrets, 13 million documents, mostly from an offshore law firm called appleby; they are known as the paradise papers and they reveal the tax affairs of rich and powerful people around the world. they've been obtained by the german newspaper suddeutsche zeitung and shared with the international consortium of investigativejournalists — including in the uk, the guardian and the bbc‘s panorama programme. they show how the duchy of lancaster, which is the queen's private estate, invested around £10 million offshore. some of the money went into the off licence chain threshers which later went bust owing more than £17 million in tax. and a small amount went into brighthouse, the hire purchase company that's been accused of charging inflated interest rates. the leaked documents also reveal that this man — wilbur ross, donald trump's friend and commerce secretary — has business ties with russian allies of president putin who are subject to us sanctions.
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and they suggest lord ashcroft, the donor and former deputy chairman of britain's conservative party may have ignored rules around how his offshore investments were managed. other papers suggest he retained his non domiciled status while in the house of lords, despite reports he'd become a permanent tax resident in the uk. it's important to say that tax avoidance is not illegal, but it is controversial — and these latest revelations are bound to fuel the political debate around offshore tax havens and whether governments should do more to clamp down on them. our first report is by richard bilton from the bbc panorama team which has been investigating the paradise papers. it is an island paradise, but there is a lot more to bermuda than just beaches and sun. it is a tax haven, secrecy and 0% tax rates.
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one of the world's biggest offshore companies, appleby, is based here. 7 million documents have been leaked. for months we had to carry out secret research. that is the head office. we have to be very careful, because appleby don't know we have their data. the leak is known as the paradise papers. it contains some of the biggest names in britain. like the queen's private estate. the queen's investments are handled by the duchy of lancaster. now, because of the files, we can see exactly where some
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of that money was going. £10 million was invested in tax havens. it is perfectly legal and there was no question that tax was being avoided. that should the monarch's cash be going offshore? if the cash was going abroad, i would think it was being extremely embarrassing. we accept higher standards of the queen in terms of where the investments are located. the duchy told us... the paradise papers also expose a new link between president trump's government and the russians. it is wilbur ross, he is president trump's commerce secretary. this man is the sanctioned friend of president putin. we have found that these two men have a business link. wilbur ross said that he would cut
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ties with companies that could compromise his new role in the us government. your service has resulted in you divesting yourself of literally hundreds of millions of dollars. you did it to avoid any conflict—of—interest, correct? that is correct sir. we don't think that is correct. we found he has a stake in a shipping company navigator holdings, one of its major clients is a russian company, sibur. a shareholder was sanctioned by the us government in 2014. you don't want to get involved with someone who gets involved, or walks up to the line with sanctioned individuals. if you know anything about the russians, in the current system it is easy to get dirty. don't go there, man.
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don't go there. mr ross told us that none of the funds he managed ever owned a majority of navigator shares and he never met the russian. there are revelations closer to home. i, michael lord ashcroft swear... lord ashcroft was tory deputy chairman and gave millions to the party. but what we found in the files could leave him facing a tax bill of tens of millions. a series of payments totalling around $200 million were made to him from a trust in bermuda. to avoid tax on those payments, the trust must act independently. if lord ashcroft ignored the rules and made decisions, he could face a big bill from the taxman. e—mails seen by us suggest a rising
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sense of frustration among the trustees that lord ashcroft was not playing by the rules. it looks like lord ashcroft was controlling the trust and expecting the trustees to rubber—stamp his decisions. i am richard, i work for panorama. he wouldn't answer written questions so i caught up with him at the tory party conference. do you have an offshore trust with tens of millions that you secretly control? why don't you just talk to me? it'd be great to hear your view. dear, dear, dear. is that your response. his lawyers later said that i had started shouting something at him, by which time he had walked away and heard nothing of what i said. we could have been sponsored,
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we've done about a mile and a half. despite two minutes of questions, lord ashcroft would not give us his side. i will not follow you in there. appleby told us that they do not specialise in tax. these are commercially sensitive documents relating to appleby and its clients. these are the first names from the paradise papers, but there are more to come from this extraordinary link. a little earlier richard bilton told me more about some of the information revealed by the leak of the paradise papers. this is an enormous leak, panorama has been working on this for the best pa rt has been working on this for the best part of a year, poring over the documents and there is an awful lot in there and reveals a lot about this world. the leak is from appleby, a company based in tax
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havens who basically brokered deals for rich individuals and for big companies. in that offshore world, tax havens, people go there for simple reasons. they go there low tax rates, for lax regulation and secrecy. tax rates, for lax regulation and secrecy. most people go there for those reasons, but that environment creates a reason to go there if perhaps you wanted to dodge tax or worse. through these documents, we get to see that world, we get to see the sort of deals that are talked about and brokered. you have been working on this radio, what has it been like carrying out this investigation that has taken you all around the world ? investigation that has taken you all around the world? it has been an enormousjob, but it around the world? it has been an enormous job, but it is a around the world? it has been an enormousjob, but it is a dramatic lea k enormousjob, but it is a dramatic leak i think. if you think of other lea ks, leak i think. if you think of other leaks, people are familiar with the panama papers, i and leaks, people are familiar with the panama papers, iand panorama leaks, people are familiar with the panama papers, i and panorama worked on that last spring. that itself was pretty expos of an dramatic because it pulled back the curtain and
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showed what the offshore world was like. why i think this is much bigger and more dramatic, particularly in britain, is because appleby work in uk tax havens. they have ten officers and are linked to the uk, a secret empire of offshore, a british empire of offshore. we can see the sort of things they are doing. consequently, there are more british people and british companies in there. we're talking about politicians, pop stars, sports stars, multinational companies. these are big people, and more and more names will emerge in the coming days. and we will be showing richard bilton‘s special edition of panorama here on the bbc news channel in the uk and bbc world news in around 15 minutes‘ time. less talk to our economics
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correspondent. this is a huge leak and it shows what the duchy of lancaster was doing in investing the queen's private money. she has insight of the duchy of lancaster which has hundreds of millions of pounds on her behalf, she draws her private income from it, that doesn't necessarily take day—to—day interest in individualfinancial necessarily take day—to—day interest in individual financial investments. that is important, because of those 1005 that is important, because of those 100s of millions, perhaps tens of millions went to the two offshore finds, in cayman islands and bermuda. the one in the cayman islands invested about £350,000 in a private equity venture run by a uk company which purchased to retailers, one was threshers which went bust, owing £70 million to the
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tax man, and the other was a company where people go to get a server or a washing machine, they paid by the week and can pay more than the initial purchase price. the financial conduct authority says it needs to pay compensation to thousands of customers, although these are small investments by the queen, they are controversial. our royal correspondent nicholas witchell is also with me. any reaction from the palace? no, other than to point out that the queen does pay tax on her private income as wejust queen does pay tax on her private income as we just heard that is through the duchy of lancaster. it is by association with this area of investment activity that many would regard as dubious, and that many people would feel is not an appropriate area for this particular investor. i don't suppose she knows anything about it, but it does seem
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extraordinary and puzzling that her advisers could have felt that it was appropriate for someone whose reputation is based so much and for so reputation is based so much and for so long on setting a good example, that they could have concluded that it was appropriate for her money to be put into these offshore funds. it is important again to say that there is important again to say that there is no question of tax avoidance in her case, as i mentioned she pays voluntarily the equivalent of income tax on her private income. the duchy of lancaster has a crown exemption, but she does pay tax. it is this association which is undoubtably embarrassing. the labour leaderjeremy corbyn has tweeted his response to the news, saying, paradise papers again prove what i said at pmqs: there's one
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rule for the super—rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax. in the last hour the shadow chancellorjohn mcdonnell has put out a statement in reaction to the revelations in which he says: let's delve a bit deeper now into what's been revealed about the finances of one of president trump's key aides, the us commerce secretary wilbur ross. the paradise papers show that mr ross has an interest in navigator holdings, a shipping company which earns
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millions a year transporting oil and gas for the russian energy firm sibur. two russians, who are shareholders in sibur, are currently subject to various forms of sanction by the united states. one of them is this man, leonid mikhelson... the other is gennady timchenko, who an old friend of president putin. a separate connection between the kremlin and sibur is that another of the company's shareholders — kirill shamalov — is married to the president's daughter. the commerce department spokesman said mr ross had never met the three russian shareholders. our washington correspondent barbara plett—usher spoke to me earlier and i asked if there had been any more reaction from president trump's administration to these revelations. we have had that statement from the commerce department and the tone was
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generally that mr ross hadn't done anything illegal, it did not deny that mr ross did have this financial sta ke that mr ross did have this financial stake in the navigator shipping company which does a lot of business with the ration energy company, but noted that the russian company itself had never been sanctioned, even though we know is major shareholders have been. it confirmed that mr ross had been on the board of directors of the shipping company for two years, but it said he had never met the oligarchs in question or the son—in—law of president uden. it also said that mr ross had reduced himself —— president putin. and that he was working closely with ethics officials to uphold ethical standards. having said that, i think there will still be questions about potential conflict of interest, because mr ross has a lot of influence on sanctions and trade. it
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also doesn't look very good in the current climate in washington which is caught up in these potential links between the trump administration and the russians. this looks to be one of the first reported business links, even though an indirect one, between a member of the trump administration and a member of president putin ‘s inner circle. so what are offshore investment funds — and why are they so controversial? well our economics editor kamal ahmed now explains. for centuries britain has been a focus of finance. that is seen by many for the good of our economy and global trade. we allow companies set up in the uk and not be taxed here. our imperial past is also important. across the world are what are called crown dependencies or overseas territories. places like jersey and guernsey and the isle of man, which have an arm's length relationship with us and have
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based their economy on low tax offers to companies and individuals to hold some of their welfare. ——wealth there. others are more far—flung places like gibraltar, as well as bermuda, the british virgin islands, the cayman islands, and turks and caicos. such places insist they are good for growth. they allow firms and individuals avoiding being taxed multiple times by different countries. there have been a lot of new rules on transparency as well. but, they are criticised for being too secret. too weak on regulation and too open to corruption. critics say that the laws have also failed to keep up with global companies that can move vast amounts of money around the world at the touch of a computer key.
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we are not the only ones to lure companies to our shores. other countries involves singapore, switzerland and america which have low tax systems in many states. it is also important to note that tax evasion is illegal but tax avoidance is using legal structure to reduce tax levels. how much can this be worth to national exchequer is treasury? globally, anything between £75 billion and £180 billion. many now believe that avoidance has become so controversial that needs to be a complete change to global tax laws so that taxes are paid in the country where the firm or company is based. that might mean tax going up which some disagree with,
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but controversy would probably die down. with me now is murray worthy, senior campaigner on banks and corruption at global witness, which has campaigned for greater transparency in offshore finance. how significant do you think they are? they are hugely significant because they given unprecedented insight into the role the uk tax havens play in a shadowy offshore world that allows tax avoidance, tax evasion, correction, money—laundering from all around the world. we have heard from appleby, the main firm whose documents have come to light, saying it is a hack? the question is what happens next. uk tax havens were at the heart of
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this, after the pan and —— panama papers, they said there would be reformed. this is a reminder that the uk government must take action to reveal the true owners of these secretive offshore companies. tax avoidance is not a legal, tax evasion is, but not tax avoidance —— not illegal. they are not doing anything wrong, they are doing things within the law? as your earlier presenter was saying, many people are shocked at the small amounts of tax that these companies pgy- amounts of tax that these companies pay. and a call to change the law for what is not illegal now will be illegal in the future. this system allows broader crimes as well like money—laundering and corruption, they have a devastating impact. solving that might have a wider benefit around tax. the point i am
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making is that it is not the fault of the individuals, they are obeying the law and pushing it as far as it can go, it is up to governments to change the way the way these places operate? absolutely, the solutions have to come from government. these lea ks a re have to come from government. these leaks are what is happening about in uk tax havens, and theresa may's government is ultimately responsible and must take action. it reveals the true owners of the company is based there and tackle this tax havens it received. one of the questions is that if you are going to keep having data leaks that if you are going to keep having data lea ks like that if you are going to keep having data leaks like this, the panama papers and now the paradise papers, you wonder if some of these clients of these offshore funds are going to lose confidence? i think we are starting to see the beginning of the end for tax havens. if you are at the point where secrecy within is not holding up, people are leaking from inside, and at the same time
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there is pressure from people at home who are seen these revelations and wanting to know more about what is happening there and thinking this needs to end. it is only a matter of time before these places have to open up before we see the secrecy come to an end. thank you. now for some breaking news coming into it in the last few minutes. there has been a shooting in the baptist church in the us state of texas. it has resulted in multiple casualties we're hearing from the media in the united states. the gunmen is reportedly killed, the shooting took place at the first baptist church in sutherland springs, south—east of antonio. they are saying that the gunmen walked into the church shortly before noon local time, a two —year—old we're hearing among the wounded. these are initial
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reports, that is from the dallas morning news website. unconfirmed reports that there has been a shooting at a baptist church in the american state of texas resulting in multiple casualties. just to repeat where that has taken place. we understand that the first artist church in sutherland springs, south—east of san antonio in texas. reports, unconfirmed reports, that the gunmen walked into the church and opened fire, a two —year—old among the wounded according to reports. much more on that coming up on bbc news. let's also tell you that we can now bring you now let's bring you that special bbc panorama programme that reveals programme that reveals the contents of some of 13 million documents, which come mostly from an offshore law firm called appleby and reveal the tax affairs of rich and powerful people around the world. but for now, goodbye. tonight on panorama: the offshore
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secrets of the rich and powerful out in the open. did you, sir, have tens of millions in an offshore trust that you secretly controlled — yes or no, sir? a huge leak of documents reveals the stories they wanted to keep hidden. it is a major political explosion. there is the senior trump official who does business with the russians. under the current system, it's easy to get greedy. don't go there, man. don't go there. questions at the heart of the national game. is he the real owner of everton? are you crazy? have you seen a psychiatrist? and we discover that even the queen has offshore secrets.
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we expect higher standards of the queen than investing in tax havens overseas. it's an island paradise, sunshine and fun. welcome to bermuda. this is and fun. welcome to bermuda. this is a beautiful island in the atlantic, but it's a lot more than just a few pretty beaches. this place attracts billions of dollars from all across the globe from the super rich and big business. bermuda is a tax haven. it offers to the rich and powerful: 0% tax rate and secrecy.
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these places are selling secrecy, selling facilities for handling dirty money, and a big part of the game is hiding it. but now, that secrecy game is hiding it. but now, that secrecy has been breached. appleby isa secrecy has been breached. appleby is a legal firm that sells offshore services. 7 million of their documents have been leaked. that's the head office. we have to be very careful at this stage of the investigation. because appleby don't know that we have their data. we have been working on the
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documents for the past year. this march, we were invited to a secret meeting in munich. we don't talk about what we're doing. the documents were leaked to a german newspaper. we don't talk to our friends, ourfamilies, newspaper. we don't talk to our friends, our families, our colleagues. they are sharing the documents with the international consortium of investigative journalists will stop in the uk, that's panorama and the guardian. —— consortium of investigative journalists. . it will be very interesting to the public, because this is information that has never come out before. the leak has been
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called the paradise papers. secret contracts, agreements and deals that we we re contracts, agreements and deals that we were never supposed to see. over the next two nights, panorama will show you the hidden stories. the paradise papers contain some of the biggest names in britain. some at the very heart of the establishment. including one who lives here. our very own queen is investing offshore. the


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