Last night I watched a two-part drama I recorded over Christmas called “Lucan”, about – astonishingly – the Lucan murder and disappearance. What an unpleasant bunch they were (or at least according to Jeff Pope’s ITV script), the Clermont Set of John Aspinall (“Aspers”), Jimmy Goldsmith, Ian Maxwell-Scott et al. From the murder onwards, the drama necessarily strayed into speculation, and the scenario they went with was that Lucan was spirited away to Switzerland, crossing the Channel on a small boat piloted by an underworld contact of Aspers. And why did Aspers need such a contact? Why, to launder his money, of course! (You knew I would get there in the end.)
The Clermont Set was all about gambling – first (illegally) in their own homes, and then (after a relaxation of the UK gambling laws in 1962) legally in London’s first casino, the Clermont Club opened by Aspers at 44 Berkeley Square. So before 1962 all the money was illegal – both winnings and house profits – and after 1962, the participants were reluctant to declare it all, so there was an obvious need to remove money from the UK. On top of that, at the time of the Lucan disappearance (November 1974), the top tax rate on earned income was 83% (although the concept of “earned income” was unlikely to trouble the Clermont Set…). But then the investment income surcharge raised the top rate on investment income to 98% – and this applied to incomes over £20,000 (the equivalent of about £175,000 today). And this did very much trouble the Clermont Set, many of whom were keen to remove their liquid assets beyond the reach of the UK authorities. Numbered bank accounts in Switzerland were a popular destination – and so Aspers had a friend who would make a regular journey across the Channel and through France to Switzerland, cash in hand. Whether he used this service to help his friend Lucan evade justice we shall never know, but I am pleased to see that – once again – a story that starts out as one thing once again turns out to be about money laundering. I told you so – it’s the centre of everything.
I suspect that whilst most people would wholeheartedly nod their heads in agreement at the statement “Money Laundering is a Bad Thing”, in reality tax evasion is often perceived to be a bit of a grey area. bit like getting convicted for speeding offences: “…oooh, but getting from A to B as quickly as my box on wheels can carry me is my god given right…how dare those horrid lawmakers stop me.” in other words: people know it’s wrong, but many could – and do – justify indulging in this behaviour themselves, particularly if the chances of getting caught are slim. because despite what the law says, they believe they are in the right. unlike, say, a “black and white” naughty, like murder, which we all know is wrong.
now in the AML world, most of us agree for instance that funding terrorist group attempts to blow things up is “wrong” – nothing contraversial there. however, there’s pretty widespread agreement amongt the weary masses in a lot of onshore jurisdictions that they’re squeezed for taxes far to hard. proceeds from which are then squandered on myraid vote-winning spending strategies that said weary masses never benefit from. could imagine bitterly engraving one’s SA100 with one’s own blood, if one happened happened to live in a place like that.
am trying to cast my mind back to November 1974; unfortunately drawing a bit of a blank there. certainly too young for pocket-money, let alone suffering the effects of a 83% top tax rate. but there’s a quiet little voice in mind head which keeps saying the unsayable: if a taxing authority is greedy enough to demand more than it’s fair share from it’s citizens then it deserves the tax avoidance and evasion activity that arises as a consequence.
and as one who lives in a low-tax jurisdiction which is no stranger to the benefits of international tax arbitrage (of the avoidance variety only, of course)…I’d better stop there…