Waiving the right to privacy

Should I choose, for recreational reasons and shielded from public view by the thick walls of Maugham Towers, to wear a diving mask and snorkel I might reasonably assert a right to privacy in relation to that choice. Should I step, thus dressed, into the formal gardens of Maugham Towers I might maintain it still. But should I fail to de-snorkel before wandering up to the newsagents, my reasonable claim to privacy would vanish.

There is a right to privacy. A good right. One that can be found in most attempts to articulate what basic human rights look like. But this post isn’t an attempt to describe the law of privacy. The questions I want to pose concern the shape the right to privacy should take.

My mooted enjoyment of diving gear may or may not be a matter of public curiosity but for so long as I choose to confine that enjoyment to a private sphere the public has no right to know. But the right is contextual. I can waive it by my actions. I can make choices that alter the balance between my right to privacy and such passing curiosity as the public may possess. By those choices I can denude of value my claim to privacy. We may collectively hold that it is better that we preserve the rights of those who wish to take photographs outside a newsagents than the claims to privacy of those who choose to shop at them.

A week or so ago Alexi Mostrous, the Times journalist who has made so many of these stories his own, wrote about Tony Blair’s rather complex personal finances. Those arrangements were said to be set up for reasons of privacy:


And yet what is clear is that an arrangement whereby Mr Blair simply chose to receive the money directly – without the interposition of any company, or partnership or trust structure – would have provided the nearest thing the law offers to perfect privacy. So one should approach with scepticism any contention that this arrangement was about privacy. Because the choices Mr Blair made reduced rather than enhanced it.

No tax justice campaigners of which I am aware campaign for the public disclosure of income or gains that individual (lawyer-speak for ‘real’, like you and me) taxpayers enjoy. There is a reason for this. It is because the most natural arrangements – Y provides X with income where Y and X are individuals – is adequately able to be taxed. That arrangement is inimical to avoidance and any sophisticated form of evasion.

It is when we choose to create and interpose legal structures – trusts, partnerships, companies and variants thereon – between X and Y that there arise the conditions within which avoidance and evasion can occur. Of course, often or usually we choose to interpose those structures for good reasons. Trusts provide a mechanism for protecting the assets of the vulnerable. The limited liability attaching to companies encourages us to indulge the animal spirits that cause us to create businesses and generate wealth.

But there is no good reason why we as a society should not attach to the choice of these legal structures a price – an enhanced degree of public scrutiny – for using them. Charging a price does not breach anyone’s right to privacy. It is the choice to use them – to walk to the newsagents – that carries the concomitant loss of privacy.

I would go further.

Where we know that those structures create the conditions within which behaviours inimical to the interests of broader society – such as tax evasion and avoidance and money laundering – can occur, society should charge a price for using them, especially where that price is designed to reduce the risk of those behaviours.

Of course, we should think sentiently about what that price should be. It should reflect the legitimate uses to which those structures are put. And also the risks that they create. And it should be mindful of assertions of privacy that legitimately serve – for many do not – the public interest.

But having made the decision about what that price looks like, it is right that it be paid.

Some of the media coverage of the Panama Papers might suggest that the thinking I have outlined above is heretical. But it is not heretical – it is not even new. Rather, we have just forgotten it.

Let me take one of many examples.

Section 113 of the Companies Act 2006 creates an obligation on the part of companies to maintain a register of shareholders which is available to the public. The entitlement on the part of the public to examine this information can be seen as a price in reduced privacy that attaches to the use of a company structure. Hold assets through a company and the public should know.

Is this price qualitatively different from the apparently contentious proposal that there be public registers of beneficial ownership of companies?

I don’t think so.

There is, it seems to me, only one explanation for a state of affairs that has section 113 on our statute books but rejects the notion of public registers of beneficial ownership of companies. That explanation is that we have lost sight of why we introduced the rule now to be found in section 113. What possible purpose is served by a provision that obliges a transparency that we now allow to be occluded?

Let me sum up.

Many assertions that to do X or Y would breach the privacy of Z misdiagnose the cause of Z’s loss of privacy. On analysis, it is the choices that Z makes not the doing of X or Y that occasion that loss. Society should weigh in the balance its broader interests when it sets the conditions under which Z can choose to use structures that create the conditions within which avoidance and evasion can occur. None of this is heretical – or even new.

A clear eye towards principles that should be uncontroversial. A review of trust law and company law and partnership law with these principles in mind. Measures – easily found – to secure that the purpose of these principles by UK residents is not subverted by the use of non-UK structures.

What could be wrong with this?


‘Tackling Tax Fraud’: the new PAC report

Overnight the Public Accounts Committee published a timely report on ‘Tackling Tax Fraud’. It’s fairly short and you can read it here.

Prospectively the greatest point of interest in the report is when it addresses the ‘perception that HMRC does not tackle tax fraud by the wealthy.’

There are, of course, two questions buried in that phrase.

Is HMRC failing to do enough to tackle tax fraud by the wealthy? And, is HMRC allowing to grow up in the minds of the public a perception that it is failing to do enough to tackle tax fraud by the wealthy?

Only one of the questions raises a matter of fundamental public importance: are rich and poor treated meaningfully equally under the law. The other concerns whether HMRC should sack its press agency.

And I said “prospectively the greatest point of interest” because the report in good part addresses the second question. I don’t think I care – do you? But, anyway, it concludes that HMRC should “publicise this work“. 

Now we’ve got that out of the way, what do we learn about the important question.

We can glean one or two details of interest.


See if you can spot where the forensic point slides away from the Committee here:

HMRC told us it investigates around 35 wealthy individuals for tax evasion each year, but did not know how many wealthy individuals it had successfully prosecuted. We welcome the fact that HMRC has sought and received funding to increase the number of investigations it undertakes into corporates and wealthy individuals to 100 a year by 2020, indicating that the current level is insufficient.

Yep. There is apparently going to be an increase in funding to move from 35 to 100 investigations a year. But that increase will not only cover wealthy individuals but will also cover corporates.

I was curious about how this point had been allowed to slip so I went back to the oral evidence session which stood as the basis for this report. That didn’t help so I went back to the National Audit Office report which had been addressed in the oral evidence session. As I read those documents, HMRC has never stated that it investigates 35 wealthy individuals a year or that it is now going to investigate 100. Both of those numbers cover both wealthy individuals and corporates.

But at least there is more resource to tackle a group that includes wealthy individuals. Even if we don’t know how that resource is targeted within that group.

Maybe. Here’s the oral evidence session again.

Q147 Stephen Phillips: In one sense, Ms Granger, you have anticipated my question. You are going to increase the number of prosecutions, or investigations that hopefully lead to prosecutions, to 100 for wealthy individuals and corporates from a figure that is currently around 35. Is that right?

Jennie Granger: I think “wealthy and complex” is what we said—

So that number for evasion investigations – and the increase from 35 to 100 – covers (a) wealthy individuals (b) wealthy corporates (c) complex individuals (d) complex corporates.


But forget about investigations for a second. What about prosecutions? How many wealthy individuals face the threat of jail time? Here I go back to the report. And on this it is crisp. HMRC did not know how many prosecutions it had brought of wealthy individuals for tax evasion (see paragraph 10).

What we do know (according to the National Audit Office) is that increasing HMRC’s overall target for criminal prosecutions to 1,000 led it:

to focus on less complex cases, in particular a large number of prosecutions for evading income tax, VAT and tobacco duty, and lower-value cases.

We also know HMRC had estimated that many billions of pounds of tax were being evaded offshore. Many billions were expected to be collected under a number of long-running tax amnesties – but the number of billions actually collected fell very short.

And we know, because the report reminds us, that the 3,600 names on the HSBC Falciani list of those with Swiss Bank accounts led to only one prosecution. And that fact led to widespread public outrage.

Did this shortfall, did this outrage precipitate some change of focus in HMRC’s activities? It’s not easy, on the basis of the Public Accounts Committee report at least, to conclude that it did.

Did it prompt decisive re-resourcing of HMRC to enable that change of focus? We know from the OBR (see paragraph A.23) that HMRC very recently still lacked the resource to chase up an £800m shortfall in expected receipts from tax evasion.

And did it prompt HMRC to gather targeted information to address public concern? HMRC still seems to be (at best) unable to tell us how many investigations into tax evasion by wealthy individuals it is carrying out.

Hang on a second.

Perhaps the question whether HMRC should do more to publicise its work is more interesting than it seemed. But I’m not sure I’d agree with the Public Accounts Committee. I’m not sure HMRC should publicise what it is doing.

People might be cross.

David Cameron and Inheritance Tax

To avoid tax you have to do a thing which cuts your tax bill.

Fail to do that thing and your tax bill is higher. But do it and you’ve avoided tax compared with an alternative world – economists call it a counterfactual but you and I would call it an overdraft – in which your tax bill is higher.

If this all seems a bit, well, metaphysical, it shouldn’t.

When Ian Cameron died, David Cameron received £300,000 in his will. That’s just below the maximum amount you could, at the time, pass on free of inheritance tax. Most or all of the rest went to David’s mother and, because she was Ian’s wife, it went tax free. She promptly gifted the Prime Minister a further £200,000 by way of what Downing Street is describing as an equalisation payment (a payment to ‘equalise’ the money that the children received from their father).

That’s the real world. If she survives the gift by seven years that will save £70,000 compared with an alternative world in which the money went straight from Ian to David.

The mere fact of making gifts whilst you’re alive can – if you’re wealthy at least, because only a very few people are rich enough to pay inheritance tax – avoid inheritance tax. But I wouldn’t describe it, without more, as meaningful tax avoidance. It’s a rule that the statutory draftsman has created and you’re using it as she intended.

But what takes this little two-step into the realm of meaningful tax avoidance is that it would have been known before Ian’s death what sum David needed to get in Ian’s will to ensure he received the same amount from his father as his siblings.

The natural thing to do – and so to me the appropriate ‘counterfactual’ to what actually happened – would have been for Ian to make the gift in his will. But instead Ian gave him a sum of such a size that there would be no inheritance tax to pay. And then David’s mother gave him a little bit more in such a way that, if she outlived the gift by seven years, there would have been no inheritance tax to pay.

Compare that counterfactual to what actually happened and there’s a £70,000 inheritance tax saving.

I think this is, in a meaningful sense, tax avoidance.

The Prime Minister’s Tax Returns

Thanks to several newspapers, I was yesterday given a preview of information provided by David Cameron to the press on his tax returns.

The numbers themselves are relatively unsurprising.

So that my readers can see them I have cut and pasted below an extract from what Downing Street provided to the newspapers:


If you plug these numbers into your pocket calculator the tax paid is broadly what you would expect it to be. I have one or two observations to make on the numbers – see below – but I can see nothing especially exciting beyond what immediately meets the eye. And what immediately meets the eye is not especially exciting.

But does the exercise succeeded in delivering what is likely to be its objective? To improve our understanding of the Prime Minister’s financial affairs and quell speculation of hypocrisy?

The first and most important point to make is that the Prime Minister has not published his tax returns. He has provided a sort of dance-of-the-seven-veils version. He’s shown you quite a lot of what you might like to see – but not all of it. ‘What else is there?’, you are bound to ask. Why can he not show us his actual tax returns? If the objective really is to improve transparency – you really don’t want me to push my metaphor – he ought to have followed John McDonnell’s example and published his full tax returns.

And you’re not made more comfortable when you come to look at who has provided the information.

It comes from a firm of accountants, called RNS, under cover of a letter, addressed to the Prime Minister, (the “Cameron letter”) which provides:



The Cameron letter follows very closely the format pioneered by Zac Goldsmith in February (the “Goldsmith letter”):


But unlike the Goldsmith letter, the Cameron letter has no accompanying Press Release.

Zac’s Press Release made it very clear that the letter was from Zac’s accountants:


But we are not told, and do not know, whether the accountants that wrote the Cameron letter were his. Reading it, and the notes provided with it which talk about what the authors “understand” about his expenses, I have a sense that it was written by accountants other than Mr Cameron’s. If this sense is justified, if the letter comes from someone who isn’t Mr Cameron’s accountants, it takes us a (difficult to understand) further step away from actual transparency.

A couple of other points about form.

The letter does not pretend that any exercise has been done over and above the mechanical one of extracting information from past self-assessment tax returns. I mean no disrespect when I say it involves no professional judgment by RNS.

But it does come from a professional firm – and that has useful consequences.

The numbers are what the numbers are. The Prime Minister has not invited us to take on trust what he says they are; instead he has delivered them in the form of a letter from a certified professional bound by a code of professional ethics. My view, and the view of most, is that it couldn’t properly be suggested these numbers are false even were they to be given by the Prime Minister himself. But I know that some would and so having a professional say that they represent what is reported in his tax returns might be thought to be a sensible precaution.

The final point to note is that the letter is addressed to the Prime Minister, not to anyone else. The firm of accountants will have the Prime Minister as its client, not anyone else. This tells us something – this is not the place for a detailed analysis of the law – about who the firm intends should rely on the letter and to whom it owes its professional duties. Again, let me be explicit, I do not say any conclusion should or even can be drawn from this, but I might have done it differently.

Turning to the detail of the numbers, it is noteworthy that David Cameron received £6,681 in interest from what we are told is “interest on savings with a UK high street bank”. If you assume a (relatively high) 2% rate of interest and that the interest is before deduction of tax, this implies he had during the course of the year an average of £334,050 sitting in his bank account.

The notes also record that David Cameron has voluntarily overpaid tax on occasion:


And has donated royalties from his book to charity:


Some will say that this voluntary largess is a privilege of wealth.

Perhaps it is.

But having myself lived in poverty and now in wealth I very much appreciate that wealth enables me to spend to nurture my self-sense of moral well-being. And I remember, too, the moral humiliations that poverty brings. But whatever your view, mine is that we must recognise that these are careful and responsible acts that many do not undertake.

The capital gains and losses are described by the notes as being from the sale of “units in Blairmore.” But “Blairmore” is not a legal entity – or a description of anything – and all the lawyers I know, and accountants too, would have used its proper name. My sense of slight unease is not diminished when I contrast the clumsy “Blairmore.” with the full technical description elsewhere in the notes of the “Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003”. And it is positively exacerbated when I recall that in his ITV interview, David Cameron starts off by talking about the asset that he sold as a “unit trust” and then several minutes later describes it as “Blairmore Investment Trust.”

The notes also state that:


This is, perhaps, rather bold of RNS. It cannot know what other sources of income or gains the Prime Minister has. It can only know what it has been told.

But leaving that aside, the substance is consistent with various other statements that the Prime Minister has made about not having any offshore interests himself. These are set out here.

However, the statement does nothing to address the concern that the Prime Minister, his wife or children might benefit in the future from a discretionary trust. (I should say explicitly, to be transparent myself, that earlier in the week I reached a different view but I now regard myself as having been precipitous to do so).

The closest the Prime Minister has come is to say this:


But an offshore discretionary trust for his children is not one which “the prime minister, Mrs Cameron or their children will benefit from in the future.” It is not a future interest in possession trust in respect of which it could fairly be said that those entitled will benefit. An offshore discretionary trust is one from which they only might benefit, depending on how the trustees choose to exercise their discretion.

There are two points that makes this gap in the Prime Minister’s language interesting to me.

The first is that it has been left.

The Prime Minister could very well have said:

As far as I am aware, there neither is nor has been any non-UK discretionary trust of which the Prime Minister, his wife, or children are or have been potential beneficiaries.

but he did not.

The second is that had you asked me or other tax professionals several weeks ago what arrangements you might have expected Ian Cameron to have made for his family, an offshore discretionary trust would have featured heavily amongst the responses. It’s a perfectly natural arrangement for someone with extensive offshore interests to enter into. It would be surprising if someone who had shown an appetite for complex offshore arrangements involving exotic tax haven locations such as the Bahamas and Panama, and really rather ugly features such as bearer shares, had opted for tax simplicity in the disposal of his estate.

So although it is speculation, and although I do not want to speculate in a destructive way, my own personal judgment is that it is reasonable speculation.

In summary?

The financial acts that I can see, and of course there are many I cannot, and that are acts of the Prime Minister, are by and large decent and responsible. The financial acts that make me uncomfortable are the acts of his father, from which of course David Cameron benefits, but they are not his acts and he did not choose them. And the weaknesses of this exercise, if you regard it as an exercise in enhancing transparency, may perhaps stem from a desire to obscure the latter.


A small homage to Guido Fawkes

Here’s a clip of Guido Fawkes’ exclusive. I’d encourage you to visit the page yourself – he’ll appreciate the advertising revenue.


In a nutshell, the ‘story’ is, first, that Art Malik’s company (ML&J Ltd) engages as its company secretary his wife, Gina. And, second, that his accountants offer specialist offshore planning advice.

As to the first, it doesn’t. She resigned almost four years ago.


This was just eleven days after her appointment.


God knows why: probably an administrative balls-up.

As to the second, it looks as though the Board of the Conservative Party prepares its own accounts. But the Registered Treasurer is Simon Day, who used to work for BDO. And BDO are now also its auditors.


And here, amongst other services, are those offered by BDO, including offshore tax planning.


Like it or not, this is pretty standard stuff.

I don’t think it’s much of a story that the Conservative Party’s auditors do it. And I also don’t think it’s much of a story that Art Malik – whoever he is – has accountants that do it. But if you disagree with one you must also disagree with the other.

Panama. Where next?

Two days in. Lots of column inches. But what will it all mean for the future? Some embarrassment, a scalp or two, then business as usual? Or meaningful change?

Corbyn is right. We could, if we wanted to, compel ‘our’ tax havens to deliver transparency. This excellent Global Witness piece gives specific examples of a number of recent instances where we have legislated directly and against the will of British Overseas Territories.

Some writers assert that, somehow, tax is different from those examples. But there’s little to support those assertions. If you accept that you can cross the rubicon for one purpose it’s difficult to sustain an argument you can’t cross it for some other.

So, why don’t we?

It’s neither attractive nor, to me, plausible to suggest that the Conservatives are indifferent to the moral quality of the actions of those who avoid or evade tax – or those who facilitate it, be they professionals or tax havens. It is certainly true that the revelations so far have revealed a preponderance of individuals with some connection to the Conservative Party. But there is a natural and plausible explanation for this.

There is an almost perfect correlation between being an offshore tax avoider or evader and being wealthy. That correlation follows from the considerable costs of establishing and maintaining an offshore structure. There is also a correlation – less close but still – between being wealthy and voting Conservative. Accept the logic of these propositions and you avoid the need to impute anyone with a moral ugliness that experience tells me is a rarity, on any part of the political spectrum.

The explanation, I think, is more likely to be found in the Conservatives’ assessment of what the public interest demands, both here and in those Overseas Territories.

A substantial part of the City is engaged in the servicing of the global wealthy. We have ceased to be the holders of wealth and have instead become their butlers. The City is, when it doesn’t fall over at least, a huge contributor to the financial health of the UK. All of this poses a quandary: how much ugliness should we tolerate to sustain or even increase that contribution?

I don’t want to answer that question, yet at least. I just want to pose it. What price our moral principles?

So far as our tax havens are concerned, the picture is much the same.

Tax havens compete on a variety of criteria.

Some of these carry no moral component: political stability, language, proximity, sophistication of service, legal familiarity, judicial independence.

But some do: transparency (more is less) and opacity (less is more). And a whole variety of soft factors: what quality of information will local financial services professionals  demand for compliance procedures, how quickly and enthusiastically will local tax authorities respond to requests for information from overseas tax authorities, how vigilant will they be when it comes to updating registers, what is their reputation with the tax authorities of real countries and so on.

Sophisticated players in the market will have a keen sense of where the various tax havens rest amidst this competitive ecology.

Disrupt that ecology and – this will be the Conservatives’ fear – you will kill the tax haven. It will cease to enjoy the position it did in the market and whatever wealth that position delivered to the population of the haven will be lost. What is the point of doing this when other tax havens continue?

The net gain to morality will be nil.

This will be the unspoken logic of the Conservative Party which bears the burden – so long as it remains in Government – of having to make hard decisions.

And this logic is, it seems to me, perfect. But also very limited.

Because collectively tax havens serve no useful purpose.

Their aggregate effect on the global economy is huge – and hugely negative. They disrupt the ability of Governments to achieve political ends through diplomatic means. They permit criminals to enjoy the fruits of their crimes. They enable to be hidden from the eyes of the electorate that which it should know. They facilitate the theft of public assets by public figures for private gain. And, of course, they diminish our Governments’ treasuries to the benefit of a wealthy few.

These factors are profoundly compelling.

And their presence – and their effects – has blighted our societies for decades, and will linger. It will linger for so long as Governments fail to demonstrate leadership.

The perfect logic that I described above I also described as limited. It is limited because it prefers the modest short term gains from protecting the contingent revenue streams of small haven economies to the substantial long term gains from tackling these profoundly negative effects.

Let me, against the background of that discursion, return to the question with which I started.

Where is the story going? Will we see meaningful change?

The electorate wants what looks to it like justice. But, or at least this is my view, politicians are apt to underestimate the strength of that desire for ‘justice’. And inclined, also, to underestimate the price the electorate will pay to have it.

The Conservatives are not ignorant of this public desire, of course. And they have a record – not unblemished but nor unimpressive – of tackling personal tax avoidance.

But on tackling evasion, I cannot claim to be optimistic about what the Government will do.

There is incontrovertible evidence of profound under-resourcing of HMRC. And the the appointment of Edward Troup, a civil servant’s civil servant, as Lin Homer’s replacement does not signal a desire to change HMRC’s culture so as to prioritise the signal banging up of one or two upper middle class tax evaders. The rhetoric, of course, thrills. But the evidence is that the reality will fall some way short.

But will we force our tax havens to up their game?

Here, too, I do not expect meaningful change. We will hear, again, the rhetoric designed to quieten the mob outdoors. But I do not believe the Conservatives’ instinct to preserve the status quo will change.

I do not think the mob will swallow what the Government would have it eat. We will continue to see the absence of delivery and not be distracted by the rhetoric. But this, of itself, will not deliver change.

The real value of stories like this is that they raise the political price of inaction. But for so long as Labour is not, electorally speaking, at the races the Conservatives can pay that higher price. The power of the electorate to compel change is dispersed by an absence of threat. The conservative instinct will prevail.

Stand back from all of this. Where are we?

The nature of the revelations – both their huge scale and their intimate detail, the quality of the names, the size of the sums, the ugliness of the conduct – cannot but take us a further step along a long road. But, without viable political challenge, I regret that I do not see meaningful change immediately ahead.

Some thoughts on the Panama Papers

In the coming days you will hear a lot about the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

‘Avoidance’ is – whatever your views of its moral quality – lawful. ‘Evasion’ usually involves deception and is unlawful. You go, theoretically at least, to prison for offshore tax evasion. (‘Theoretically’ because HMRC tend not to bring prosecutions for this type of behaviour. As of November 2015 there had been only 11 prosecutions for offshore tax evasion in the last five years.)

In the coming days professional firms and others whose business it is to service or speak for those amongst the wealthy who prefer not to pay their taxes will be out in force in the newspapers and the media channels. Having assets in, or which have passed through, Panama is consistent with avoidance, they will tell you.

They – and, too, the Government which will want to defend its record in this field – will suggest that the outrage you feel about what you read you are wrong to feel. And that people can perfectly lawfully have assets in Panama. And that you cannot conclude from the fact that name X or name Y has appeared in the Panama Papers that X or Y has done anything wrong.

And you won’t be able to contradict them.

You won’t know whether Mr X or Mrs Y have declared their tax liabilities on those assets in the UK. You have no entitlement to know anything about their UK tax affairs.

HMRC won’t tell you. HMRC is bound by a duty of confidentiality – and that duty is so very strict that if I was Mr X I could stand, smiling, on national news, next to HMRC’s Chief Executive and declare that I had paid every penny I owed and even if HMRC’s Chief Executive knew this an outrageous lie she would still not be able to contradict me.

Journalists won’t be able to tell you either. It is hard to have enough information to exclude every legitimate explanation for a fact pattern such that you can positively assert that Mrs Y is a tax evader. You will have had to tell Mrs Y in advance of what you planned to broadcast and Mrs Y’s lawyers will have issued very serious threats about what will happen if you broadcast – sometimes coupled with an almost comedically implausible explanation for the conduct. But the threats are serious and so you will not broadcast.

You may wonder who this wall of secrecy exists to protect. You may wonder whether the explanations of why it exists fairly balance public and private interests.

You will see something that feels very wrong. Yet no one will call it so. And because no one will call it wrong, no one will promise meaningful change. And this will make you angry.

It is true that tax avoidance is – whatever you think of its moral quality – legal. And it is true that people living in the UK might have assets in or that have passed through Panama for perfectly proper reasons. True, but not very likely.

And here’s why.

For the purposes of UK tax law, most tax havens are the same. There is no magic effective in UK tax terms that can only be performed in Panama. Moreover, Panama is not next door. It is not a British tax haven with the comforting familiarity such brings. It does not enjoy an especial reputation for trust and solidity.

People think of these things when they are choosing where to put their money. They are big disadvantages for Panama.

So there has to be a reason why you go there.

What Panama has offered – its USPs in the competitive world of tax havenry – is an especially strict form of secrecy, a type of opacity of ownership, and (if the reports of backdating are correct) a class of wealth management professionals some of whom have especially compromised ethics.

You go to Panama, in short, because, despite its profound disadvantages, you value these things.

And the question you should be asking is, what is it about this Mr X or that Mrs Y and his or her financial affairs that causes them to prioritise secrecy or opacity or (if the reports are correct) ethically compromised professionals above all else?

Perhaps it is not because the behaviour is criminal: tax evasion or money laundering or public corruption. Perhaps it is not. But – and especially in the case of Panama – very possibly it is.

PS: There’s a nice ITV clip of me talking through some of the issues in this Telegraph piece.