Lib Dem peer reveals online Barclays tax documents

by Stephen Tall on March 26, 2009

Here’s how The Guardian reports it:

Liberal Democrat spokesman Lord Oakeshott used parliamentary privilege today to blow a hole in a gag order obtained by Barclays Bank over its tax avoidance scheme. The documents detailing the schemes, previously leaked to the Lib-Dems, were now available on Wikileaks and other websites, he told a Lords debate on tax avoidance.

Barclays had previously obtained a high court injunction banning the Guardian and other papers from disclosing that the documents were publicly available on Wikileaks. The gag order, provided by Mr Justice Blake, also forced the Guardian to remove copies of the documents from the paper’s own website.

You can find Lord Oakeshott’s Lords speech here; here’s an excerpt:

Gordon Brown is strutting the world’s stage as Mr Clean-up, the man to make tax havens and tax dodgers quake in their boots. Oh yeah? Why then did the Treasury say only yesterday that the asset protection scheme for banks to dump their bad debts on the taxpayer and the code of practice covering tax avoidance for the banking sector due next month are “separate issues”? That is the most unjoined-up government imaginable. Why has the budget of HMRC’s hard-pressed tax avoidance team, led by Mr Tailby, been cut by 5 per cent from 6 April? Barclays will be laughing all the way to the Cayman Islands. Our taxmen are like fat policemen running after a speeding Ferrari; they need all the help that they can get.

We all rejoice at the sinner who repenteth, but this is the same Gordon Brown who as Chancellor cuddled up to the bankers so hard that it hurt and who showed no interest in taxing or regulating hedge funds registered in the Cayman Islands and run by non-doms in Mayfair, or the private equity millionaires with their absurdly generous special tax breaks. …

Documents leaked to the Liberal Democrats, which appear to detail systematic tax avoidance on a grand scale by Barclays, were injuncted last week. The Sunday Times and the Guardian had already made them front-page news and these documents are widely available on the internet from sites such as Twitter, wikileaks.org, docstoc.com and gabbr.com. Yet the Guardian had to remove them from its website and cannot tell its readers where to find them. These documents describe deals worth billions of pounds set up by the bank in order to make money out of depriving the UK and foreign exchequers of revenue. Barclays would not last for one minute without the British taxpayer standing behind it, yet it is holding out one hand for taxpayers’ money while it picks taxpayers’ pockets with tax avoidance activities on the other. …

Vince Cable has done his duty and sent all these documents to HMRC and the Financial Services Authority. I believe that it is mine today to tell—as I just have—Parliament about Barclays’ tax avoidance machine with its aggressive exploitation of tax havens and to tell the public, in their interest, where they can get chapter and verse and judge for themselves.

Barclays has a whole department, the structured capital markets division, inside Barclays Capital, dedicated to dodging the taxman, and has been reported as paying Mr Roger Jenkins, who runs it, £40 million a year. Vince Cable and I are now being told of more, even murkier, deals. About a third of a billion pounds has been added to Barclays Bank’s bottom line by the following six “projects”, from what we can see. Barclays’ Project Knight, set up in 2007, with capital of more than $16 billion, involved making loans to American banks which now need federal funding: Wachovia, WaMu, Bank of America and BB&T. This allowed Barclays to benefit from “double-dip” tax credits, as they are called, and made the bank £100 million or more.