LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron took the unusual step on Sunday of publishing his tax records to try to end days of questions about his personal wealth caused by the mention of his late father’s offshore fund in the Panama Papers.
Cameron’s initial reluctance to admit that he had benefited from the fund caused a furore, compounding his problems at a tough time for his Conservative government.
His party is badly split ahead of a June 23 referendum over whether Britain should stay in the European Union, and the government has been forced to backtrack on welfare cuts and is facing accusations of failing to protect the steel industry.
After saying on Saturday that he could have handled the fallout from the Panama disclosures better, Cameron released normally confidential details of his tax records for the past six years.
But any hope that this would draw a line under the issue was short-lived, as the main Sunday newspapers zeroed in on a gift of 200,000 pounds ($282,500) Cameron received from his mother in 2011, suggesting it may be a way of avoiding inheritance tax.
A source at Cameron’s Downing Street office said the suggestion was inaccurate, the gift had been declared and this was about a mother making a gift to her son in the same legal way that hundreds of thousands of Britons do every year.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused Cameron of misleading the public by issuing what he described as four “weasel-worded” statements in as many days before finally admitting that he had benefited from his father’s fund.
After the tax records were disclosed, Corbyn told the BBC the prime minister still had questions to answer about what profits he had made from the offshore investment prior to 2010, when he sold a share worth about 30,000 pounds.
Cameron is not accused of having done anything illegal, and the fact that he is a wealthy man who enjoyed a very privileged upbringing is nothing new.
But the past week has been damaging because the drip-drip of carefully worded statements before the fuller disclosure created the impression he may have had something to hide.
In addition, Cameron stands accused of hypocrisy after portraying his government as being in the forefront of global efforts to crack down on offshore tax havens. A comment he made in 2012 about a famous comedian’s legal tax avoidance scheme being “morally wrong” has been widely quoted by media.
Scores of politicians and business figures have been implicated in the Panama Papers, including the prime minister of Iceland who has since stepped down. The 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca detail the creation of more than 200,000 companies in offshore tax havens.
Cameron said on Thursday his father’s investment trust was not set up to avoid tax but to invest in dollar-denominated shares. He said he had paid all taxes due on his own investment.
The documents disclosed by Downing Street on Sunday, from RNS Chartered Accountants, show Cameron paid tax of 75,898 pounds on income of 200,307 pounds in the 2014-2015 financial year, the most recent one included.
Seeking to further regain the initiative, Cameron also announced on Sunday a new taskforce, jointly led by Britain’s tax authority and National Crime Agency, to build on the work Britain has done to tackle money laundering and tax evasion.
But Labour’s finance policy chief, John McDonnell, said this was inadequate and rather than a taskforce there should be a full public inquiry. He also said Cameron’s government had cut resources at the tax authority as part of its fiscal austerity drive, and that had left the body unequal to its task.