It’s platitudinous to point out there is no justice in the world and there is no shortage of readily available examples to demonstrate it, but how can it be, Gentle Reader, that my brother-in-law languishes clapped in irons in a French prison for trying to avoid duty on a few thousand ciggies while the Queen and the Prince of Wales commit what is tantamount to the same crime, yet they are still free to gad about their gilded palaces?
Paradise for them but hell for the busted smuggler who counts down the days of his sentence by scratches on the wall of his cell. Things have come to a pretty pass when the HM in HMRC deprives herself of the R and the C but prosecutes her subjects for the very same.
When the line of defence trotted out by the Buckingham Palace public relations machine starts by downplaying the significance of the amounts involved — though it was £10m — one senses a dislocation between the monarchy and the people, the logical conclusion of which should be a revolution, the trundling of a tumbril down the Mall to a set of makeshift gallows and a record-breaking pay-per-view execution of the Royal Family beamed worldwide on satellite TV.
The total value of the Duchy of Cornwall’s assets is £1bn give-or-take. Is this not enough to disincentivise Prince Charles from involvement in offshore investments and then robustly advocating climate policies from which they would benefit?
We expect these kind of things from Russia’s robber barons or Donald Trump or technology analysts on Wall Street but not from the heir to the British throne.
If I were to buy a stock controlled by my friends for my personal account and then start promoting it to my clients without disclosing my interest I would rightly be prosecuted but Clarence House, where Charles lives, can simply claim the prince’s ignorance of such trifling details because one of the minions, probably the footman who squeezes Duchy Of Cornwall organic toothpaste on to the royal toothbrush or the valet who lies down in a puddle so the hand-sewn brogues do not get wet, takes care of the portfolio.
Not the moral high ground
Don’t think I am laying siege to the moral high ground here before a lengthy occupation. It’s slightly disingenuous of me to hypothecate about pushing clients into one of my punts because not one of them would ever buy a recommendation of mine were it the only stock in the market and the only reason why I have not had to dodge capital gains tax is I’ve never had any capital gains in the first place.
I look at the disclaimer on correspondence with my financial adviser and am surprised to learn share prices can go down as well as up because I have never experienced the latter.
Heaven knows I’ve tried to minimise my tax bill in each of the 28 years I have filed a return but my only failsafe strategy for this has been to minimise my annual earnings in the first place. I’ve been highly successful in that regard.
I worked with people at one securities firm who were gaoled for engaging in complex tax avoidance structures and I don’t mean the Al Capone defence of protesting legal taxes cannot be claimed from illegal money.
Fellow workers at The Russian Brokerage So Designed So That Normal Things Could Not Happen were able to squirrel away huge bonuses in exotic Caribbean tax havens which made sense till they fell out with ex-wives who threatened to squeal to HMRC before running off with the majority of it.
Imagine how lovely it must have been going on a holiday to visit your own money? Friends at other firms took payment in Turkish lira to guarantee off-setting losses or gold ingots or Bordeaux first growths but I don’t know that many City players at my level who really made out like bandits.
In my experience, to evade a lot of tax, one must first of all earn enough to be able to pay someone to evade it for you.
The little people
This is why the tax burden falls on the middle-class, “the little people”, who cannot escape it while for the super-rich… you just move your wealth around the world, staying one step ahead of the investigators until some jealous scumbag in your private bank decides to resign and with a final gesture of malevolence, sends a cache of files to the press.
If I were rich — and I could take just a tiny sliver of the Duchy of Cornwall, leaving Charles the remaining £999m, and still count myself a wealthy man — I’d gladly cough up more because I could afford it.
Imagine opening one of those buff envelopes upon returning home from work and not trembling with fear? I’ll pay all the tax Comrades Corbyn and McDonnell want but only if I can get filthy rich first. By all means, pluck the goose in such a way as to collect maximum feathers with minimum hissing, but pick a lovely, plump specimen in the first place, not this emaciated and squawking weakling.
I was able to speak to my brother-in-law dans le slammeur the other day and in his gnomic way he expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the double standards operative in society which put him in prison stripes while the Queens wears elaborate millinery and soft gloves in pastel shades, Prince Charles strolls flâneurially around his garden in a tailor-made, double-breasted Anderson & Sheppard suits and Bono the billionaire philanthropist, struts on stage.
I expressed surprise that he was able to call people, seemingly whenever he wanted. Someone smuggles a phone in, he informed me, which is passed around and they all have their own SIM card.
“Phones are banned in a prison though, surely?” I asked, “…so how do you manage to hand it on without being detected?” He went quiet for a minute. I understood what the silence meant.
“If I were you”, I advised, “I’d text rather than talk”.