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Banking, taxes, and the Ashcroft-Cameron feud

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Posted: Friday, October 2, 2015. 3:01 pm CST.

Friday, October 2nd, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: Belize has been dragged again into a battle of the elephants between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Lord Michael Ashcroft, billionaire businessman.

As Ashcroft prepares to release an “unauthorized biography” of the man whom he funded and fueled to the post of lord ashcroftPrime Minister on Monday, Bloomberg Business reports on his ties to a pair of offshore banks with American clients now suspected of tax evasion.

Lord Ashcroft has been a longtime donor to Cameron’s Conservative Party and once drew criticism in the U.K. for exerting full-press political influence while enjoying part-time tax status.

As previously reported, two weeks ago a U.S. federal judge in Miami authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to seek the names of Americans using accounts at the banks, part of the campaign to find those trying to hide money outside of their reach and opening the banks to responsibility for enabling tax evasion.

Bloomberg says the banks, identified as Belize Bank Limited and Belize Bank International Limited, belong to a holding company Ashcroft controls (BCB Holdings); he was previously their chief executive and chairman, but a spokesman says he now has no operational role in them and the banks themselves or their officials were not faulted.

Ashcroft’s book, “Call Me Dave”, details his falling out with Cameron, who has dismissed the book by saying all can see why it was written.

The Conservatives accepted Ashcroft’s non-domiciled tax status, which shielded him from paying taxes in the UK on some income, and depended on his donations to fuel their rise to power. He has since abandoned that status.

The banks’ holding company did not respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment. Ashcroft’s spokesman also referred the news service to the Bankers’ Association of Belize statement on the issue.

According to the Association, the country’s banks comply with local laws and international banking standards, it said, adding that it’s the responsibility of account-holders to tell the appropriate tax authorities about their holdings.

“The Internal Revenue Service is not suggesting that the Belize banks, referenced in the articles, have done anything improper,” according to the release from the Bankers Association of Belize. “They are trying to find out if any U.S. person (whose identity they don’t have) has violated the U.S. Internal Revenue Laws by having monies kept outside the U.S. to avoid reporting income.”

Ashcroft himself suggests that his relationship with Cameron became strained after the 2010 election when he did not receive an offer for a post that “adequately reflected” his contribution to the party – but he insisted he was not trying to settle a score. Cameron’s office would not comment.

Bloomberg says U.S. taxpayers have revealed at least 23 previously undisclosed accounts at the two Belize banks as part of a voluntary disclosure program, according to the IRS, whose efforts are focused on learning the identities of more such U.S. clients.

“The IRS knows — from interviews, voluntary disclosures, and records of criminal prosecutions — that U.S. taxpayers have used the Belize entities to set up and maintain undisclosed accounts to evade their U.S. tax obligations,” U.S. prosecutors wrote in support of the IRS’s request.

One of the Belize banks, says Bloomberg, advertised its ability to provide undisclosed accounts to non-Belize residents, according to court filings by the Department of Justice. Belize Corporate Services, a non-bank entity owned by Ashcroft’s holding company, has advertised the sale of “Belize Ready Made Companies” as well as “virtual office” services, including the ability of mail and telephone calls to be forwarded to Belize.

These are not illegal; they can be used by those living in unstable parts of the world to protect their wealth or shield assets from creditors.

The Belize bankers’ association, in its release, said the country’s banks comply with international standards on anti-money laundering and is fully compliant with the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

There is no law in Belize prohibiting U.S. citizens from establishing accounts there, it said, adding that account-holders must comply with rules of their own tax authorities.


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