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Boris Johnson’s holiday villa linked to offshore tax havens, documents suggest

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Boris Johnson’s holiday villa linked to offshore tax havens, documents suggest

With its two swimming pools, organic farm and private woodland, the villa may have seemed the ideal place to escape for a prime minister hoping to get away from it all.

But the sprawling Marbella estate where Boris Johnson has been staying this week may be an awkward reminder of the questions he faced – and managed to avoid – in the wake of the Pandora papers revelations last week.

Documents seen indicate the luxurious villa, lent to him by environment minister Zac Goldsmith, has been held by an opaque offshore structure based in multiple tax havens.

The papers suggest the minister and his family may have owned the property through a Maltese company held by companies in the Turks and Caicos Islands and administered by a wealth planning firm based in Switzerland.

Goldsmith refused to answer questions about the arrangements, though his spokesperson did not issue a denial.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Goldsmith, who has declared his interest in the secluded villa. But Johnson’s holiday at a property that appears to be held through a chain of companies in secretive jurisdictions will probably raise questions about his commitment to reforms designed to introduce transparency to offshore property ownership in the UK.

The documents also raise questions about whether Goldsmith, a senior government minister who was appointed by Johnson to the House of Lords in 2019, holds valuable and income-generating assets offshore.

Last week, the Pandora Papers threw into sharp relief the use of offshore jurisdictions by senior Conservative party figures and donors. Responding to the revelations about how politicians and wealthy individuals around the world rely on offshore havens to shelter their fortunes, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said the use of offshore companies to avoid tax and hide wealth from authorities “is a global problem”.

In recent days, Johnson has faced criticism over the timing of his holiday amid the energy and supply chain crisis. It is also less than three weeks before he hosts the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

On Monday, a Downing Street spokesperson defended Johnson’s decision to take a holiday this week but refused to confirm who was funding the stay at Goldsmith’s estate near Marbella. The spokesperson also refused to discuss whether there was a potential conflict of interest in Johnson accepting a holiday from a peer whom he ennobled and made a minister.

Goldsmith’s wealth has previously come under scrutiny, first in 2009 when as a prospective MP he admitted to previously claiming non-domiciled tax status. In 2016, he disclosed that he made, and paid tax on, more than £10m since becoming an MP in 2010, a large portion of which came from a family trust set up by his billionaire father.

Since becoming a peer, Goldsmith has declared in the House of Lords register of interests that he holds an interest in a property in the Andalucía region of Spain via a family trust. The register suggests that a Spanish company owning the property is in turn owned by a holding company, Bora Investments.

Goldsmith has not denied that Bora Investments is a Maltese company incorporated in 2007, which until at least 2016 was owned by two secretive nominee entities in the Turks and Caicos, where companies do not pay corporation tax.

The documents, shared with the Guardian by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist (ICIJ), suggest Bora Investments has used two separate BVI companies as nominee directors.

These two BVI companies were operated by an exclusive wealth planning firm which also administered a BVI company co-owned by Goldsmith’s brother, Ben Goldsmith, and the Conservative party co-chair Ben Elliot.

Last week, the Guardian revealed how the two men used the BVI company, E&G Productions, to invest in a 2010 documentary about the West Indies cricket team which indirectly benefited from £121,000 of UK tax credits. According to public disclosures, Zac Goldsmith was one of the film’s investors.

Documents suggest E&G Productions used the same two companies as nominee directors as Bora Investments, while the same employees at the Switzerland and Isle of Man-based wealth advisory firm signed documents for both companies.

Goldsmith’s spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether his family had used an offshore structure to hold a property in Spain in order to avoid tax in the country.

Oscar Abeti, senior partner at Marbella-based law firm BCP, said there were many reasons for choosing to hold Spanish property in an offshore structure of this kind, but “tax is normally one of the main reasons”.

He said in recent years Spain’s tax authorities have begun demanding more information about foreign-owned property, meanwhile special taxes have made it more expensive to own property using offshore vehicles.

In October 2018, Goldsmith and his family appear to have incorporated a new company in Spain to hold the hillside estate in the Costa del Sol. The peer’s register of interests suggests this company is controlled by Bora Investments.

In a statement, Goldsmith’s spokesperson said he has “followed the ministerial interests process set out in the ministerial code.”.

She added: “His interests have been reviewed by the Cabinet Office and the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests. Other relevant interests have correctly been reported in line with the House of Lords’ code of conduct.”

She did not respond to specific questions about whether Johnson is reimbursing Goldsmith for use of the property or why the peer has not declared any rental income from the property, which is marketed online for rentals, reportedly for as much as £25,000 a week.

On Tuesday, after a parliamentary report found the government’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history, the Mirror published a photograph which they said showed the prime minister at the villa painting a picture.

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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