The dodgy house of Vodafone

Posted on Wed 28th May 2014, 7:48pm


In this guest blog Richard Brooks, author of The Great Tax Robbery, explains why Vodafone's tax dodge is still so scandalous.


Vodafone epitomises 21st century international corporate tax avoidance.

When the company took over German engineering company Mannesmann in 2000, it structured the deal using a Luxembourg holding company and twice as much internal debt than the whole group had really borrowed. This financial alchemy enabled it to funnel billions of pounds of otherwise taxable profit as interest payments from Mannesmann and other European operations into a Luxembourg company taxed at less than 1%. With tax dodging shaping the business, Luxembourg became (on paper) Vodafone’s most profitable territory without selling a single phone contract.

Under British tax law at the time, the profits of a UK multinational diverted into a tax haven would have been taxed in the UK. Indeed, the Labour government had not long before enacted specific legislation to ensure that the arrangement Vodafone proposed was caught. But after unsuccessfully lobbying for a concession, the company went ahead anyway and argued that European law (never intended to facilitate tax avoidance) overrode UK law.

A decade long legal battle ensued, during which time Vodafone repeated the trick with its investment in US firm Verizon, through another Luxembourg company. Despite holding the upper hand after a 2009 Court of Appeal ruling that Britain’s tax law could be compatible with European law, HM Revenue and Customs boss Dave Hartnett struck a deal with Vodafone and its adviser David Cruickshank (the chairman of Deloitte with whom Hartnett personally negotiated many big cases and who would soon become his employer!) The company would pay just £800m tax and a further £450m over five years (a time-to-pay arrangement that ordinary taxpayers would never be allowed) and have a free pass for the future. At the time I estimated the deal was worth around £6bn to Vodafone, but since this excluded the US transaction that was diverting around $2.5bn a year profits into Luxembourg yearly from 2006, it looks like an under-estimate.

 Multinationals don’t like working this hard for their tax breaks and, while the Vodafone legal wrangle went on, they had set about persuading the government to change the law so that schemes like Vodafone’s automatically work. In 2010 George Osborne’s Treasury created a series of working groups to propose new rules, including one to address offshore financial schemes like those used by Vodafone to shift profits into tax havens. On it sat… Vodafone’s tax director (and former senior HMRC official) John Connors. The group duly produced just what Vodafone wanted and George Osborne obligingly enacted the changes in his 2012 finance bill.

 In an unguarded conversation with City analysts in 2010 Vodafone’s finance director confided that “a reasonable proportion of the group’s free cash flow [around £6bn a year] obviously does come from the tax efficient structuring”. The phenomenal size of the advantage became clear recently when the company brought onto its balance sheet a “tax asset” of £17.4bn. This represents the reduction in future tax bills (over twice the UK’s annual aid budget) that Vodafone will enjoy by diverting profits from around the world into Luxembourg thanks to Britain’s emasculated corporate tax law.

So Vodafone first defied British tax law, then negotiated an escape from its full effect, then helped change the law so its schemes would never be caught again. The result is tens of billions of pounds kept from government budgets. Or, in language the tax accountants wouldn’t understand, millions of people deprived of the education, healthcare and benefits they deserve.

 That’s something worth protesting about.


Join our action VodaHome on 14th June - See you on the Streets!!

Press release: UK Uncut return to Vodafone

Posted on Thu 15th May 2014, 1:24am
EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 Thursday 15 May 2014

Tel 07415 063 231 Email ukuncut@gmail.com

UK UNCUT TO TARGET VODAFONE'S TAX DODGING IN NEW WAVE OF ANTI-CUTS PROTEST

- Announcement follows wide anger at news of Gary Barlow's tax dodge - Campaign group expects hundreds to take action against mobile company in June.

Anti-austerity direct action group UK Uncut[1] has today announced that it will make Vodafone the target of a “national day of action” in protest against their tax dodging activities. The campaign group claims that the mobile phone provider “hasn't paid a penny of corporation tax since 2011”,[2] and that forcing tax avoiders to pay their tax could avert a looming housing crisis in the UK.

Tax avoidance shot back into the headlines this week after a tribunal ruled that former Take That star Gary Barlow should pay back millions of pounds gained from investing in an aggressive tax avoidance scheme.[3] UK Uncut campaigners have laid responsibility with the government. The group says pledges from David Cameron and George Osborne to crack down on tax avoidance by large companies have proven to be “empty words”.

The protests are planned to take place on June 14th and will focus on how tax dodging is crippling the UK’s social housing sector. A statement on UK Uncut’s website said they will “transform Vodafone branches up and down the country into living rooms, shelters, refuges, bedrooms and hostels”.[4] The group say they expect dozens of stores around the UK to be affected. The announcement comes as official statistics on housebuilding are expected to show the supply of homes continue lag behind demand,[5] and as news emerges that hostels are turning away the homeless due to a lack of available accommodation.[6]

Vodafone was the first company to be targeted by a series of high-profile protests by UK Uncut for avoiding a £6bn tax bill in 2010.[7] The action is due to take place just six weeks before Vodafone’s AGM and less than a year before the general election in which the government’s record on tackling tax avoidance while slashing public spending will be centre stage.

UK Uncut supporter Uma Dagenheart, 23, said: “It’s outrageous that after four years of the public demanding action, the government has done nothing to make giants like Vodafone – or millionaires like Barlow – pay their tax. We are suffering from a housing crisis in this country and the tax that Vodafone owes could pay for thousands of new homes.”

Tara Jackson, 28, who will be taking place in the protest said “The government were lying when they said they were serious about making rich companies pay their fair share. It’s time we reminded the government how angry people are that their mates in the City can get away with multi-billion pound tax bills while the rest of us suffer.”

ENDS

Notes for editors

[1] www.ukuncut.org.uk - UK Uncut became known four years ago for a series of high-profile protests against tax-dodging companies including Vodafone.

[2] Tax expert Richard Murphy has produced evidence on Vodafone's ongoing tax dodge: http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/06/11/vodafones-not-paying-any-tax-in-the-uk-get-used-to-it-because-thats-what-george-planned/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/22/vodafone-tax-case-leaves-sour-taste

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27356896

[4] The announcement will be published on Thursday, May 15 at www.ukuncut.org.uk

[5] Housebuilding statistics will be made available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-communities-and-local-government/about/statistics. The numbers of affordable homes and new homes in the social rented sector have fallen sharply in recent years. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/259999/Affordable_Housing_Supply_2012-13.pdf

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2014/may/06/affordable-housing-shortage-homeless-hostels

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/dec/06/hmrc-tax-deal-vodafone

CALL OUT: #VodaHome

Posted on Thu 15th May 2014, 12:01am
We’ve had enough of Osborne and his fat cat cabinet sheltering tax-dodging companies like Vodafone yet failing to offer good quality, affordable housing to millions of people. Join us on June 14 when we’ll transform Vodafone stores across the country into the homes we all need and deserve!





We are in the midst of a national housing crisis caused by cuts to housing benefits, the bedroom tax, a lack of housing for disabled people, social cleansing of our cities and soaring rents. Evictions and homelessness have risen, while providers of services for the homeless have been cut.


The government says we can’t afford to fund social housing and benefits but Vodafone has not paid a penny of corporation tax since 2011. On June 14 – ahead of Vodafone’s AGM – UK Uncut will be going back to Vodafone to remind them if the Government won’t make them pay their tax then we will. So gather your friends and family as we transform branches up and down the country into living rooms, shelters, refuges, bedrooms and hostels. We will show that we are here to keep the pressure up on tax avoiding millionaires, and that empty words from Cameron’s Government won’t stop us.


If you’re angry about unaffordable rents, the bedroom tax, housing benefit cuts, social cleansing, empty houses and millions being left without safe and secure homes, then take action! If it makes you sick that Vodafone can get away with not paying tax, then take action! If you say NO to the government sheltering tax-dodging companies and YES to safe, affordable, secure homes for all then take action!


So grab your sleeping bags, lamps, chairs, rugs, mates, toys and turn your nearest Vodafone into a home. Check the actions page to find an action near you. If there isn’t one, why not start one off? We’ve got a step-by-step guide on how you can organise one yourself. UK Uncut actions are creative and fun. If you need any help get in touch on ukuncut@gmail.com – we need to make sure the Government and Vodafone hear us roar!


Power to us, power to you.
See you on the streets!

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