I must confess that I have yet to watch an episode of the joint BBC-RTÉ co-production, Mrs. Brown’s Boys, a bawdy sitcom popular with television audiences in Britain and Ireland – and despised by TV critics in both countries. Nor have I seen any of the ribald stand-up comedy work of the show’s creator, the frenetic Brendan O’Carroll. That said, I’m certainly aware of the show and its pop-culture successes, from the small screen to the big screen; not to mention theatrical and literary spin-offs. Unlike many others, though, I have no negative feelings about the Dublin entertainer and his career, or his habit of employing close family members in his showbiz productions. If anything, I admire his generosity in spreading some well-earned late-life success around those who supported him down through the years. These include his wife, Jennifer, three offspring, Daniel, Fiona and Eric, and their spouses and friends.
However, I certainly have an opinion on the revelation by the Guardian newspaper and others that some of O’Carroll’s relatives went to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying taxes in Ireland or the United Kingdom, as they raked in huge sums of money from the fame of the Mrs. Brown character. In this endeavour they received and took the advice of the controversial British accountant-to-the-stars, Roy Lyness.
The documents show that in late 2013, Lyness introduced members of O’Carroll’s family to a tax advice firm called Aston Court, which operated a number of legal offshore trusts and companies designed to reduce users’ tax liabilities in the UK and Ireland.
These companies were used to turn money that would have been classed as income in the UK and Ireland into loans. While income payments are subject to national insurance and tax of up to 45%, loans can be received free of both.
The actors were allocated trusts and cell companies based in Mauritius. Lyness had his own cell and the five actors were each allocated one. The cell companies were all linked to offshore trusts run by Aston Court.
Money earned by the actors was received in the UK by a company called Pro Fid Ltd, which has a service address in Stratford, east London. It was acting as their agent for the work. The money was then transferred to Mauritius, either directly into the actors’ cells or via a trust run by Aston Court.
The cells were “looking after” this money for the trusts, with the actors setting out what should be done with it. Each signed a contract to be an “investment adviser” to their cell and then supplied monthly advice on what should be done with the money.
Although paperwork described the cells as being related to UK property and shares, in each case the advisers’ recommendations almost entirely involved making loans to themselves. These loans, typically of tens of thousands of pounds at a time, were arranged at commercial interest rates and had repayment dates, but were never repaid by the actors.
Over a period of more than two years, it is estimated a total of more than £1.5m was transferred into the cells…
They were able to access the money through a series of loans and using credit cards linked to the cells, on which they could put expenses.
Unsurprisingly, Paul Hewson – Saint Bono of Killiney – also turns up in the tranche of files forming the Paradise Papers, a database of 13.4 million documents detailing the tax affairs of some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world. From the BBC:
A Lithuanian shopping mall partly owned by U2’s Bono is under investigation for potential tax avoidance, following a probe prompted by the Paradise Papers.
The mall allegedly avoided paying 47,000 euros (£41,500) in local taxes using an unlawful accounting technique.
The company running the mall, in the city of Utena, denies any wrongdoing.
The leaked documents show that Bono owned a stake in a Maltese holding company that bought the mall, via a Lithuanian holding company, in 2007.
In a statement, the Irish entertainer and anti-poverty campaigner, also known as Paul David Hewson, said he had been “assured by those running the company that it is fully tax compliant”.
He emphasised that he had previously campaigned for more transparency surrounding the ownership of offshore companies, and was in favour of public registries.
Which begs the obvious question. If Bono claims that he was concerned about the transparency of offshore companies, enough to campaign on the issue, why did he make use of one in the first place?