As if things could not get worse for The Blue Team, today has brought news that the Tories have apparently managed to manipulate HMRC to their own advantage. No, that is not a mistype, that is what has happened. What is yet more remarkable is that HMRC has admitted what has happened. And what happened is that a major Tory Party donor managed to bodyswerve a money laundering probe into it.
The company concerned is Mobile Virtual Network Operator Lycamobile, which sells PAYG SIM cards for international calls and now boasts more than 15 million customers worldwide. Lycamobile also donated more than half a million quid to the Tories during the run-up to the 2015 General Election. The company’s donations during the period Young Dave was leader totalled more than £1.3 million.
But then BuzzFeed News revealed late in 2015 that “three bagmen were secretly filmed dropping off rucksacks stuffed with hundreds of thousands of pounds twice a day at Post Offices across London … the Lyca telecoms group deploys three men to drive around in an unmarked people carrier depositing bags of money, which have totalled up to £1 million each week”. Following these revelations, action was taken. But not in the UK.
French prosecutors “arrested 19 people accused of using its accounts to launder money from organised criminal networks two years ago”, and that, not unreasonably, “wanted British authorities to raid Lycamobile’s London headquarters last year and seize evidence as part of their investigation into money laundering and tax fraud by the company”.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, “The HMRC response went on to say that Lycamobile would be likely to challenge any raids on its properties in court and may succeed because the French request did not contain enough ‘solid information’. The request stalled, and Lycamobile’s UK offices were never searched”.
How convenient for the Tories! But the letter from HMRC also told “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012”. That’s a reason not to raid their offices when there is clear evidence of money laundering?
It got worse: when BuzzFeed put this to HMRC, the reply came back “No HMRC official would ever write such a letter … This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.” But “after verifying the contents of the email seen by BuzzFeed News, another HMRC spokesman said that it was ‘regrettable’”. Ouch! And now there is more bad news.
The Commons Treasury Committee Twitter feed has told “Commenting on @BuzzFeedUK's story about HMRC's handling of a Lycamobile investigation, Chair @NickyMorgan01 said: ‘This clearly raises all sorts of questions and is completely inappropriate.’”
When this kind of thing drops, the last person the Tories need chairing the Treasury Committee is an independently-minded Tory former minister with nothing to lose.
So now we might find out what Lycamobile has got on The Blue Team.