WeAreTheIntruders, a group of British activists, donned their formal best Thursday and popped in on a retirement dinner for Britain’s top tax man to present him with a well-earned reward for his service on behalf of corporadoes and banksters:
Matthew Sparkes of the London Telegraph reports on the dubious honors for David Harnett, formally known as Permanent Secretary for Tax at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs:
Mr Hartnett was giving a speech at New College Oxford on Thursday when a group calling themselves WeAreTheIntruders, posing as employees of Goldman Sachs and Vodafone, interrupted to present him with a bouquet of flowers and the “Lifetime Achievement Award to Corporate Tax Planning”, otherwise known as the “Golden Handshake”.
HMRC was accused of agreeing controversial “sweetheart” deals with large businesses over outstanding tax bills while it was still run by Mr Hartnett. The issue exploded last year after a whistleblower revealed that HMRC had waived as much as £20m of interest on a £30m tax bill owed by Goldmans on bankers’ bonuses. It was also accused of letting Vodafone off as much as £8bn in taxes by accepting a £1.25bn settlement.
It was cleared by a National Audit Office report in June, although it was told to clean up its processes to remove the suspicion of unhealthy relationships with companies. At the time HMRC said: “We welcome today’s report. We have always maintained that the settlements represented good value for the UK.”
David Leigh of The Guardian reported on that Goldman Sachs tax deal back in December:
Britain’s tax authorities have given Goldman Sachs an unusual and generous Christmas present, leaked documents reveal. In a secret London meeting last December with the head of Revenue, the wealthy Wall Street banking firm was forgiven £10m interest on a failed tax avoidance scheme.
HM Revenue and Customs sources admit privately that the interest-free deal is “a cock-up” by officials, but refuse to say who was responsible.
Documents leaked to Private Eye magazine and published in full by the Guardian record that Britain’s top tax official, HMRC’s permanent secretary Dave Hartnett, personally shook hands on a secret settlement last December.
The £10m Christmas gift for Goldman was the culmination of a prolonged attempt by the US firm to avoid paying national insurance on huge bonuses for its bankers working in London.
The sum was pocket change to Goldman, whose employees received $15.3bn (£9.5bn) in pay and bonuses last year. Its Wall Street head, Lloyd Blankfein, received $68m in 2008 and at the height of Britain’s banking crisis 100 London partners set their bonuses at £1m each. This level was considered a mark of restraint.
It wasn’t the first time Harnett was targeted. Back in November UK Uncut paid him a visit to “congratulate” him on the Goldman Sachs deal when he was delivering the keynote speech at the Corporate Tax Conference:
As the BBC reported in November, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee accused Harnett of playing too cozy a game with corporateers, finding that, among other things, he:
- authorised a large tax settlement whose negotiation he had been involved in, breaching HMRC’s internal rules
- had given “imprecise, inconsistent and potentially misleading answers” to MPs
- had relationships with big companies that were “too cosy”, resulting in the appearance they received “preferential treatment”
- had used a bogus excuse of observing taxpayer confidentiality to avoid explaining the tax deals he had been involved in.
As for Vodafone, which owns the lion’s share of Verizon, here’s what Andrew Buckwell and Martin Delgado of the London Daily Mail reported in March:
Britain’s top tax official accepted hospitality from a mobile phone company’s financial advisers only weeks before a deal which allowed the firm to avoid up to £6 billion of tax liabilities.
Dave Hartnett attended a supper at the headquarters of accountancy firm Deloitte while negotiations were still ongoing over the amount of tax its client Vodafone would have to pay.
Three months later, in what has been described as an ‘unbelievable cave-in’, Mr Hartnett agreed Vodafone was not liable for vast amounts of tax on profits racked up by a subsidiary based in a tax haven.
Yep, Harnett certainly deserved those awards.