Anger as Scottish companies owned by Donald Trump, Russian oligarch and billionaire financier demand millions on Covid-19 leave
The high-end clubs, one of which charges super-rich members Â£ 95,000 a year to access its grouse moorlands and Victorian hunting lodge, are ultimately controlled by companies in low-tax offshore jurisdictions. One has claimed up to Â£ 1.15million through the Treasury initiative, which will be liquidated on Thursday.
Other big recipients of the holiday money include Donald Trump’s Scottish companies. They have claimed up to Â£ 1.54million during the pandemic, despite the former US President’s resort of Turnberry having had dozens of layoffs.
The job retention program was introduced last spring to support companies in difficulty and prevent mass unemployment, but the considerable sums paid to companies with opaque company structures or which have carried out workforce reductions radicals will reignite the debate on how the pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities.
There is no suggestion of illegality from those billionaires whose companies have accessed payments, but given the calamitous impact of Covid-19 on public finances, the payments have sparked anger.
MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Taxation, said it was “totally unacceptable” that billionaire business owners with businesses in tax havens could “profit” public funds. She accused the British government of being “irresponsible” by failing to include conditions on its Covid-19 financial support.
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Scotland Sunday cross-referenced HM Revenue & Customs leave payment data sets with records from Companies House to establish how some of Scotland’s wealthiest and most notable foreign personalities accessed funding. The data only covers bulk payments between December 2020 and June of this year, meaning 12 months of claims remain unknown.
Russian billionaire’s private members’ club among leave seekers
During that seven month period, the company behind Skibo Castle, which is now run as “one of the most prestigious private clubs in the world”, claimed up to Â£ 1,150,000. Membership in the Carnegie Club – named after former Skibo owner, Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – is priced at Â£ 9,500 per year, in addition to the Â£ 30,000 membership fee.
The 8,000-acre property is owned by Ellis Short, the US founder of private equity fund Kildare Partners and former owner of Sunderland Football Club. The Sunday opening hours Wealthy List puts his fortune at Â£ 880million, up Â£ 20million from last year.
The most recent annual accounts of Skibo Ltd show that it made a profit of Â£ 603,000. Its ultimate parent company, Scytherbolle Ltd, is registered in Bermuda. A spokeswoman for the Carnegie Club said he was “unable to comment” when asked a series of questions by Scotland Sunday.
This is not the only exclusive membership club to use the time off plan. The company behind the 22,000-acre Tulchan Estate in Grantown-on-Spey has claimed up to Â£ 130,000.
Tulchan has an illustrious history, having hosted over the years Edward VII, George V and George VI, as well as US President Teddy Roosevelt and business figures such as William Vanderbilt and JP Morgan.
It was bought four years ago by Russian vodka billionaire Yuri Shefler for Â£ 25million, and is home to what is billed as’ the most private of private members’ clubs’. The annual membership fee starts at Â£ 95,000 per year.
Forbes estimates Mr Shefler’s net worth at Â£ 1.67 billion. Tulchan’s ultimate parent company, the Tulchan Trust, is based in Guernsey. The Speyside Estate did not respond to inquiries.
Balnagown Castle Properties, controlled by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, has claimed up to Â£ 40,000. The company oversees the 92-year-old man’s 65,000-acre estate in Easter Ross. Its ultimate parent company, Ocarina Trustee AG, is based in the small principality of Liechtenstein.
Mr Al Fayed and his family have a fortune of around Â£ 1.7bn, up Â£ 25m from last year. Balnagown did not respond to inquiries.
Elsewhere, Mr Trump’s Turnberry complex, ultimately owned by a New York-based state grantor on behalf of the 75-year-old, has claimed up to Â£ 1,325,000. The RMT union, which said at least 66 jobs have been lost at the South Ayrshire company since last summer, called its use of the program “abuse”.
Mr Trump’s Aberdeenshire property has claimed up to Â£ 220,000 over the same period. The Trump Organization did not respond to inquiries.
Turnberry isn’t the only company claiming vacation money while overseeing the cuts. Highland Spring, owned by Mahdi al-Tajir, one of Scotland’s richest men, received up to Â£ 360,000.
Three al-Tajir companies among leave seekers
The company closed one of its factories and made 27 layoffs during the pandemic. Its parent company, Park Tower Holdings Establishment, is registered in Liechtenstein.
A spokesperson for the Highland Spring Group said the leave program had helped it protect “as many jobs as possible” and support the “long-term sustainability” of the company at a time when it was experiencing a downturn. slowdown in trade.
Blackford Farms, the company behind the 20,000-acre al-Tajir estate in Perthshire, has claimed up to Â£ 70,000. Its ultimate parent company, Ciara Investments Group, is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Another al-Tajir company, Ochil Developments (UK) Ltd, also controlled by Park Tower Holdings Establishment, received up to Â£ 175,000. Mr al-Tajir’s fortune has been estimated at Â£ 1.68bn, up Â£ 18m from 2020.
Dame Margaret, Labor MP and seasoned tax activist, said Scotland Sunday: âIt is totally unacceptable that billionaire business owners with companies based in tax havens have been able to take advantage of public funds through schemes like the holiday.
âFrom the onset of the pandemic, I urged the government to add conditions to its financial support programs such as transparency, environmental responsibility, workers’ rights or fair tax conduct.
âBut instead of doing the right thing and strengthening the conduct of business, this irresponsible government was too busy handing out questionable contracts. It is high time they learned the true value of the taxpayer’s pound.
Alison Thewliss MP, fictitious chancellor of the SNP, said: âMultinational companies that have generated massive profits throughout the pandemic – especially those owned by entities located in tax havens – should definitely consider paying back the money given to them during the crisis.
âHowever, the UK government must also heed the warnings and strengthen its tax system to avoid more overseas tax evasion scandals, as this report demonstrates.
âSadly, the only tax changes we’ve seen from this Conservative government are an increase in national insurance that doesn’t target millionaires with unearned wealth and hits those with the lowest incomes.â
Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network advocacy group, said while the overall benefits of the job retention program were clear, some feared that publicly supported companies would use the fund. as expected or “meet their basic needs.” social responsibility to pay taxes â.
âBoth depend on whether or not there is sufficient transparency to hold companies accountable,â he added. âWhere businesses structure themselves through secret jurisdictions such as Liechtenstein or the majority of UK dependent territories, from Guernsey to the British Virgin Islands, they are generally much less transparent – and the overall risks of irresponsible and anti-social behavior increase. . “
Union warns leave scheme gave rogue employers a ‘blank check’
Pat Rafferty, Scottish Secretary for Unite, said: âThe job retention program was specifically designed to prevent mass unemployment and to help keep businesses and workers afloat during a time when the economy was weak. free fall.
âYet we are seeing billionaires and big companies, many of whom have questionable employment practices, take full advantage of this scheme while cutting jobs, terms and conditions and offshoring UK public funds to tax havens such as Bermuda and the Channel Islands.
âThe fact that none of these companies did anything that was apparently illegal is at the heart of the problem. Unite argued that the leave scheme should have come with strings attached and not literally give rogue employers a blank check. “
A spokeswoman for the Treasury said: âThe leave program has been instrumental in protecting nearly 12 million jobs during the pandemic, and our jobs plan has helped nearly two million fewer people are now unemployed than previously feared. .
“We expect companies to respect the spirit of the program and to be able to voluntarily reimburse the money claimed if they no longer need the assistance.”
JPI Media Publishing, the owners of Scotland Sunday, claimed up to Â£ 1million through the leave scheme.