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,, and 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.

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I have to say that I am surprised that the LibDem’s are harassing a Bank for doing something which is perfectly LEGAL.

It should be remembered that it is the duty of executives of any corporation to minimise their tax liabilities in a legal fashion, which is exactly what Barclays Bank have done.

Tax avoidance is LEGAL.
Tax evasion is ILLEGAL.

I am not quite sure what part of that the LibDem leadership does not understand.

If you dont like the tax rules, get the rules changed, but hounding businesses for conducting their business in a lawful way is quite shameful.

by Ian Parker-Joseph on March 26, 2009 at 11:18 pm. Reply #

“If you dont like the tax rules, get the rules changed, but hounding businesses for conducting their business in a lawful way is quite shameful.”

But who cares, if the judgment is that it will win the party a few votes?

by Anonymous1 on March 26, 2009 at 11:40 pm. Reply #

From Wachovia’s wikipedia entry:

On October 3, Wachovia announced the entire company would instead be merging with Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo will pay $15.1 billion–roughly $7 per share–to buy Wachovia. Unlike the Citigroup deal, the Wells Fargo deal will require no assistance from the federal government.

by Andrew on March 27, 2009 at 1:42 am. Reply #

Clearly there is a gap between what the law allows for and what is proper.

For that you have to blame the government and the individuals who are taking advantage of rules the expense of the wider public.

We must do everything to rectify the problem where good sense is subverted by unenlightened self-interest and private privilege – it is madness that the courts can or should be used to obstruct the proper authorities from doing their work.

Good job LibDems!

by Oranjepan on March 27, 2009 at 8:28 am. Reply #

What’s wrong with tax avoidance? It’s perfectly legal. Why would anyone want to give the Government yet more money to squander on Quangoes, Bankers, MP’s expenses, non jobs etc etc?

by Henry on March 27, 2009 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

Surely part of what is entailed in “getting the rules changed” is to start by understanding the scale of current avoidance. Parliamentarians can’t do that if companies attempt to keep this information secret. That’s why the Lib Dems are “harassing” Barclays.

by Paul Griffiths on March 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm. Reply #

“The business people I meet
don’t want subsidies, they
just want government off
their backs. They want
government to deliver skills
and infrastructure, not ever
more red tape. They want the
freedom to succeed. These are
our ambitions too.”

Malcolm Bruce – 2005 manifesto

What happened to the ambition? The freedom to succeed?

by Voter on March 27, 2009 at 12:48 pm. Reply #

In this case, freedom to succeed is coming up against two things: 1) the banks haven’t been doing much succeeding lately and 2) the problem with Barclays in this instance isn’t what they’re doing (which, giving them the benefit of the doubt, is perfectly legal) but their strong-arm tactics in trying to keep this behaviour secret.

Barclays are following the law, but if that’s the case then it’s obviously a deficient law. We shouldn’t have a situation where banks and other institutions are involved in a giant game of moving money around to minimise tax liability in a way that bears no relation to how the companies concerned actually operate. This situation is not Barclays’ fault, it’s the government’s fault. But to expose it, we need to expose what Barclays are doing, and they’re trying to stop that.

by Rob Knight on March 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm. Reply #

There are good reasons to have a law protecting company confidential information.

Calling it “strong-arm” tactics is the wrong approach and using parliamentary privilege to get round the law is not in the true spirit of justice.

Fight the enemy yes but within the rules

by Voter on March 27, 2009 at 2:33 pm. Reply #

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