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Thursday 12 February 2015

Lord Fink Protests Too Much

[Update at end of post]

While the deeply subversive Guardian continues the turn of the screw over what it has called “The HSBC Files”, there has been a mildly diverting interlude following yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), after Young Dave deployed a straight bat to anything HSBC related, and Mil The Younger described him asA dodgy Prime Minister surrounded by dodgy donors”. Arthur Daley goes to Switzerland, perhaps.
But the Miliband intervention that has generated most heat, if perhaps not too much light, has been his focus on just one man: “Let us take Stanley Fink, who gave £3 million to the Conservative party. The Prime Minister actually appointed him as treasurer of the party and gave him a peerage for good measure. Will he now explain what steps he is going to take about the tax avoidance activities of Lord Fink?

This precipitated a forthright and challenging response from Fink, who wrote to Miliband asserting “This allegation is untrue and defamatory”, continuing “I find it extraordinary that you have made claims against me that are without foundation or without contacting me. I challenge you to repeat your allegation outside the House of Commons – or to withdraw it publically [sic]”. So it’s game on, is it?

It seems that it is indeed on: as Isabel Hardman at the Speccy has noted, a Labour Party source has told her “David Cameron must explain whether he is happy to have appointed Lord Fink as a treasurer. Then it will be up to the public to judge” before telling “Miliband is going to repeat his allegations outside the Chamber, as soon as he is given the opportunity to do so”. My conclusion is that Fink is protesting a little too much.
Consider Miliband’s question to Cameron: he makes no specific allegation, merely inviting Dave to consider “the tax avoidance activities”. Fink’s letter talks about his Swiss HSBC account, but Miliband does not make an allegation about that. Had the Labour leader talked of “personal” tax avoidance in Switzerland, Fink would have had a point, but he didn’t. The question could have been aimed at his company’s activities, not Fink’s.

That company was the Man Group, and this snippet from the Guardian’s report is informative: “He opened Swiss accounts with HSBC in 1996 and 1997, which banked Man Group shares held in UK-registered bare trusts designed to minimise capital gains tax. Most of the trusts were wound up when he returned to London”. His response was to say “I was Swiss-resident … these were perfectly normal planning matters”.

Now consider this Guardian article from 2012, over which Fink has, apparently, not sued: “Lord Fink, the Tory donor and hedge fund chief, disclosed in an interview that he had lobbied George Osborne for a cut in taxes on invisible earnings so that he and other hedge funders no longer feel obliged to set up companies in places such as the Cayman Islands”. Does that give the impression of tax avoidance, or what?

Stanley Fink is begging the Guardian to dig deeper. Which is what he’s doing to himself.

[UPDATE 1245 hours: far from venturing anywhere near m'learned friends, Lord Fink has blinked first and conceded that he does indeed avoid tax.

He told Joe Murphy at the Standard "I don’t even want to sue Ed Miliband ... If he simply uses the words ‘Lord Fink did ordinary tax avoidance’ then no, I couldn’t sue him. But if he made the statement ‘dodgy’ about my bank account, that was potentially libellous".

But Miliband didn't say his bank account was "dodgy", and so the good Lord has backed down. Meanwhile, Miliband has visited his old comprehensive school in north London to make a speech in which he has stood by his comments at PMQs.

All of which means the Labour leader comes out of that one having been shown to have made the right call, and with his reputation suitably enhanced. Not a good 24 hours for the yah-boo boys, then]

1 comment:

rob said...

And The Green Party have a lot to answer too?

From Paul Waugh twitter feed yesterday

Cameron again refuses to say if he discussed tax avoidance with Lord Green. Is it because he can't remember? Or has Lord Green?"

I expect Cameron get's confused between Lord Green, Michael Green who of course advises him in the disguise of SpivvyShapps and Sir Philip Green who is just a normal run of the mill tax avoider.

And my mother used to say Greens do you good. How times have changed