For some working class Belizeans, the claim by foreign business interests that Belize is a “tax haven” sounds like a dry joke, to others an insult to their intelligence. Everyone knows that it is tax dollars that turn the wheels of the Government of Belize’s economic machinery. It is contrary to a fair taxation policy for the wealthy to be exempt from the tax burdens carried by ordinary citizens.
Amid a painful hike in the General Sales Tax (GST) to raise over $40 million in government revenue for the new budget year, questions have resurfaced in Belize over the tax status of British billionaire and campaign financier Michael Ashcroft, who also holds citizenship in Belize, holds several key business interests here and has financed both major political parties.
Simultaneously, the issue of Ashcroft’s tax status has been ventilated in recent months in the United Kingdom, Ashcroft’s place of origin. General elections will be held in Britain on May 6. Lord Ashcroft’s party, David Cameron’s Conservatives or Tories, had been enjoying a huge lead before that lead began to shrink following attacks on the Lord Ashcroft’s privileged tax status by Gordon Brown’s ruling Labor Party and the hard charging Liberal Democrats of Nick Clegg.
Amandala today had an opportunity to ask Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow to respond to queries over Ashcroft’s tax status in Belize.
Barrow told us that there is no way the Government can show that Lord Ashcroft makes personal earnings, even through dividends, since there is nothing on record to fix him as owner of his businesses. This is because of the labyrinthine, Byzantine arrangements which establish “legal distance” between the Lord and the companies in which he has interests. With reference to Ashcroft’s earnings, the Prime Minister said, “The Government of Belize has never been able to point to any.”
Prime Minister Barrow said that the Government of Belize is in a dispute with about 5 Ashcroft affiliates over personal income tax payments, including former Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) director, Dean Boyce, Jose Alpuche and Phil Osborne.
They claim that under their agreements with the Belize government, granted under the Said Musa administration, they are tax exempt, Barrow explained. According to him, the affiliates have taken the Government of Belize to court to get a declaration that the government cannot collect taxes from them.
Barrow noted that it has also been a struggle to get the Ashcroft-affiliated companies (such as the Belize Bank and BTL under its former management) to pay taxes, although, he noted, the Belize government has so far succeeded in most of those court cases.
In the UK, there have been reports that Ashcroft, a political financier in the UK as well, has maintained “non-dom” (non-UK domiciled) status, which also comes with special tax exemptions.
The Barrow administration had reported that the Ashcroft group of companies had repatriated $70 million from Belize Telemedia Limited, via a transaction involving Belize Bank, in 2008.