October 27, 2016

Panama Papers: UK’s Cameron fights back in parliament

Many protesters waved placards portraying Cameron as an out-of-touch elitist [Neil Hall/Reuters]

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has fought back after days of criticism over his finances, lashing out at what he called hurtful and untrue allegations about his late father’s investments, sparked by the Panama Papers leaks

Trying to restore his government’s shaken reputation, Cameron insisted on Monday that “aspiration and wealth creation are not somehow dirty words” and said the UK was acting to stop evasion in overseas tax havens.

Cameron has been under mounting pressure since his father, Ian Cameron, was identified as a client of a Panamanian law firm that specialises in helping the wealthy reduce their tax burdens.

The prime minister initially refused to say whether he had a stake in Blairmore Holdings, an offshore firm established by his father, before acknowledging he had sold his shares in it shortly before he was elected in 2010.

“I accept all of the criticisms for not responding more quickly to these issues last week,” Cameron told MPs in parliament. “But as I said, I was angry about the way my father’s memory was being traduced.”

Cameron said his father had set up an investment fund overseas so it could trade in dollar securities – “an entirely standard practice and it is not to avoid tax.” He said millions of Britons had investments in such funds through workplace pensions.

Revelations about the Cameron family finances – found among more than 11 million leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca – have cast a shadow on previous government statements that it is committed to closing tax loopholes.

Cameron has championed greater financial transparency, and is due to host an international anti-corruption summit in London next month. A law requiring UK companies to disclose who really benefits from their ownership comes into force in June.

His office initially insisted that his financial arrangements were private, before acknowledging that Cameron and his wife had sold about $44,000 in shares in the offshore fund shortly before he became prime minister in 2010, to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

On Sunday Cameron published a summary of his tax returns since 2009, becoming the first UK leader to do so.

The records appeared to show that Cameron paid his full share of tax – 75,898 pounds on taxable income of 200,307 pounds in the most recent tax year.

But the document also generated a new round of headlines over a 200,000 pound gift from his mother on which Cameron – legally – paid no tax.

Treasury chief George Osborne and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn both published details of their own tax returns on Monday. So did London Mayor Boris Johnson, revealed to have paid almost 1 million pounds in tax over the last four years.

The tax spat could have repercussions for Britain’s June 23 referendum on EU membership. Cameron is the leading proponent staying in the EU, and anything that tarnishes his brand could undermine that campaign.

Labour leader Corbyn said Cameron did not “fully appreciate the anger that is out there” about tax evasion.

Conservative MP Alan Duncan, though, accused the prime minister’s critics of hating “anyone who’s even got a hint of wealth in their life.”

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