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Robert Levy appears on BBC News following the publication of David Cameron’s tax returns

13 Apr 2016

Robert Levy, Kuits’ executive partner and specialist tax investigations solicitor, featured in an interview with BBC News’ Gavin Esler on Sunday 10th April, where he discussed the publication of the Prime Minister’s tax return.

Robert was interviewed about the details of the tax return via video link from BBC Radio Manchester’s studio and the recording appeared on the BBC News channel’s lunch-time news. This follows on from Robert’s appearance on BBC Breakfast earlier the same day, alongside presenters Naga Munchetty and Jon Kay, and a previous Breakfast interview with Dan Walker on Tuesday 5th April, where he discussed the fallout of the Panama Papers scandal.

Robert commented in his interview with Gavin Esler: “He’s the Prime Minister, he’s paid a lot of money. I think we expect our Prime Ministers to be paid a lot of money. But in terms of the nature of the information that’s been produced, which is the income he’s made, [including] the rent on his property, no [there is] nothing that, as I say, would make me fall off my chair.”

David Cameron was pressured into revealing his tax returns after a week of scrutiny on his finances, following on from the revelation that he sold £30,000 worth of shares in an overseas fund before he became Prime Minister in 2010.

Read the full transcript of Robert Levy’s BBC News and BBC Breakfast appearances on Sunday 10th April below, and watch the BBC Breakfast slot here. Find further detail on his feature on BBC Breakfast on the 5th April here.

BBC News interview

BBC News’ Gavin Esler (GE): Solicitor Robert Levy…specialises in tax affairs and he told me there wasn’t anything in the papers that sounded unusual.

GE: In terms of inheritance tax, for those people who are not familiar with what the rules are in this, why is it that some newspapers are using the word…that he could be able to, quote, ‘dodge’? That was the Daily Mail that had this in their headline, “‘dodge’ inheritance tax”. Perhaps you quibble with the word, I mean many people would just say this is tax planning? What is there about that that we should at least understand?

RL: Well I think the suggestion is that his father left him an amount of money and then his mother – who is still alive, of course – gave him money after. And had his father given him that money, he would have had to pay inheritance tax on it. But that assumes a lot of things. First of all, we don’t know that Mrs Cameron Senior didn’t have money of her own to give to her son and her other children, and it’s not unusual for parents to give money to their children. The other possible implication, when she gave the money, provided she lives for seven years after giving the money…there won’t be any inheritance tax to pay on that. But again, that’s not unusual and many people give money to children in their lifetime. I think Number 10 saw this coming because they tried to explain it in the release by saying it was equalisation between the children. So I think they knew that this would be where the focus would be.

GE: So leaving the politics aside, the word ‘dodge’ is simply wrong then is it, I mean given everything you’ve said?

RL: Absolutely, there’s no evidence at all that there’s been any dodging and certainly, [on] those particular areas on inheritance tax, I think it’s a huge leap to suggest it’s anything other than normal. I think what is getting people excited, and I understand it, is that the figures are larger than most people come across. But as I say, he is the Prime Minister and we all know that he is from a wealthy background.

GE: And a final thought on this just as a general principle, not about this specific case – offshore funds and trusts and all this sort of stuff. What are the tax liabilities of someone who is resident in the UK, if they’ve got some kind of shares that are held offshore in some way? What do people have to do about that?

RL: So I think you’ve hit on exactly the nub of the issue coming out of the Panama Papers. First of all, there is no law in the UK against a UK taxpayer holding an investment overseas. What is against the law is not disclosing the fruits of that investment. So if you earn income, or say interest on a foreign bank account, or you have gains because you sell shares in a foreign fund, then those have to be put on your tax return. So as in the case of David Cameron, [with] things that are on the tax return – people that are declaring those funds are doing nothing illegal. The people that are doing something illegal are the people using the secrecy afforded by Panama and other tax havens to not put things on their tax return. And that is where I think HMRC and the authorities generally will be focusing.

BBC Breakfast interview

RL: Honestly when I saw the information that came out [in the Prime Minister’s tax return], there was nothing that made me really raise my eyebrows. I think that the question of the mother’s gift to David Cameron after the father’s death – first of all we don’t know what assets his mother had of her own account, which may have had nothing to do with his father. Second of all, if you remember the furore at the time with Ed Miliband and the deed of variation following his father’s death, it was shown to be, by many professionals, quite normal tax minimisation and [an example of] steps that people might take across the board.

BBC Breakfast’s Naga Munchetty: Well its phrases like this – now you are a specialist in tax affairs – so it is phrases like this, like tax minimisation, you know, maximisation of assets that everyday people don’t actually have to bother with because they don’t have the assets or the money to do that. So when they hear that people who do have this money…they’re not evading, but they’re minimising their tax payments, it bristles. And you can understand it bristling?

RL: I can understand it, I really do, but that’s a political question, isn’t it. But I think that there are a lot of assumptions that are made along the way, and that have been made along the way here, that depending on your political viewpoint you can look at the same set of facts in two different ways. There’s information we don’t have and that information would enable us to see more clearly, perhaps, what had gone on with the gifting of the £200,000. But it didn’t look to me when I looked at it, that it was something that looked wrong.

BBC Breakfast’s Jon Kay: The reason you’re saying that I guess is that Downing Street are trying to explain the gift [by] saying that this was David Cameron’s mother trying to make things equal between David Cameron and his other siblings after the father’s death to make sure they all got an equal share of property and cash, and…to create a level playing field.

RL: Yes, I obviously don’t know the motivation of his mother in making a gift to the children but it’s not unusual for parents to make gifts to children, it’s just as you say quite rightly, the figures here are larger than they might otherwise be. And yes, the inheritance from his father was just below the inheritance tax threshold so people put two and two together and often make five. It’s hard to know at the moment whether that was something that was connected even, but of course people are making assumptions.

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