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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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Supreme Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Adeleke’s Candidacy

The Supreme Court has affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the just concluded Osun State Governorship Election.

This has laid to rest the suit filed by Dotun Babayemi, a governorship aspirant of the party who sought the invalidation of Adeleke’s victory.

In a judgement delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the five-member panel held that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit after counsel for the appellant, Adebayo Adelodun, withdrew the earlier notice of appeal that was filed within time.

At the resumed hearing, Adelodun, who represented the appellant and Babayemi informed the court that he sought to withdraw the earlier notice of appeal to replace it with the fresh application he filed.

But the panel held that Section 285(11) of the constitution stipulated that an appeal on a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the day of the decision, and that having filed the second appeal out of time, the apex court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Justice Augie, therefore, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Babayemi had asked the court to invalidate the primary election that produced the governor-elect, citing non-compliance with a court order.

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400 Staff To Lose Jobs As BBC Goes Digital

The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC world service has on Thursday disclosed that about 400 of its staff will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme and move to digital platforms,

The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.

In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.

BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.

But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.

BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.

“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.

 

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Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian made landfall at around 15:10 local time (19:10 GMT) on Wednesday, smashing into the coast with wind speeds of up to 241km/h (150mph).

Dramatic scenes saw a hospital roof blown off, cars submerged and trees ripped out of the ground.

The category four hurricane was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

However, Floridians were warned that the most dangerous 24 hours lay ahead and the mayor of Tampa urged people to shelter in place through the night into Thursday morning.

“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 20:00, and they are going to last throughout the night,” Jane Castor said during a Wednesday evening briefing.

In a message posted on Facebook, the Weather Prediction Center told residents in the Central Florida Peninsula to expect “widespread life-threatening, catastrophic flash and urban flooding” continuing into Friday morning, with potentially up to 76cm (30ins) of rain falling locally.

Residents were ordered to leave their homes, but many have decided to remain and seek shelter indoors.

Mark Pritchett, who lives in the city of Venice, some 95km (60 miles) south of Tampa, described the “terrifying” moment he stepped outside his home as the hurricane made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

“Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press news agency.

In Lee County – the south-west region where Ian made landfall – police were prevented from responding to reports of looting at a petrol station because of the storm damage.

As a result, a curfew has been declared “until further notice”.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that the Fort Myers community had “been – to some extent – decimated”. According to news agency AFP, some neighbourhoods in the city of 80,000 had been left resembling lakes.

State Governor Ron DeSantis described Ian as the “biggest flood event” south-west Florida had ever seen, and announced that 7,000 National Guard troops are ready to lead rescue operations in flood zones.

President Joe Biden will receive a briefing on Thursday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ian is now continuing to move north through Florida. Jacksonville International Airport, based in north-east Florida, cancelled all flights scheduled for Thursday.

The storm is forecast to emerge into the Atlantic by Thursday morning.

It is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina on Friday. Virginia has also joined Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida by declaring a state of emergency.

Cuba’s western coast was hit by Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. Power has now been restored in some areas after the island was plunged into a total blackout. Two people are understood to have been killed in Cuba and more than 20 Cuban migrants are believed to be missing at sea.

Predicted path of Hurricane Ian. Updated 27 September

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