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The obscenity of evading taxes

Tax evaders and financial depravity in times of crisiis

PETER FIELDMAN

And now for something completely different – Olvido Hormigos. I thought at first it was a village in Extremadura or something about forgetting ants or concrete, but the whole of Spain now knows about this ex-local politician. But for once the scandal has nothing to do with corruption or stealing public money. Perhaps all the publicity was to hide the never ending stories of greed and waste by the nation’s political and business community.

I liked the idea of Miguel Angel Ferris Gil, the journalist from Valencia, who has been organising bus tours to visit the pharaonic projects and point out the corruption and waste of public funds. I see Rubalcaba has been promoting my old idea of removing 500 euro notes. These are clearly only used by criminals or tax evaders. Have you ever tried to pay for a cafe or a bunch of bananas with a 500 euro note? Of course they should be removed from circulation.

The disclosure of lists of offshore account holders taken by Herve Falciani from his bank, HSBC Geneva, could start another McCarthy witch hunt. But it depends on what Mrs Lagarde and Governments do with all the names. According to reports Spain’s Emilio Botin paid over 200 million euros of unpaid tax to Hacienda from his offshore accounts to escape prosecution. It seems that one of Spain’s richest and most powerful, establishment figures is not only a banker but also a tax evader.

If there was ever any doubt that bankers help clients, or themselves, to evade tax, launder money, transfer illicit funds and engage in fraud and mis-selling, HSBC has provided the evidence. The Directors of HSBC have apologised for what are criminal activities but the punishment is a relatively small fine for the bank and a wrap over the knuckles. Meanwhile while the bankers remain untouched benefitting from impunity and collect their huge remuneration packages, they are callously continuing to evict families behind on their mortgage payments. And justice is supposed to be equal for all.

And then there is Mr De Sousa of Pescanova whose company used a web of subsidiaries around the world to hide money and Mr Julio Linares, a director of Telefonica rewarded with €24 million for working for the company. The world is not enough for some people. And Governments have become very generous with privileged friends granting tax amnesties left and right or right and left depending on one’s political leaning.

Another report which had my blood boiling related to Mr Sanchez-Lozano, the Iberia director, who resigned after three years in the job and walked off with a 2million euro package while leaving the company in debt and over 3000 long standing employees sacked with a few months’ wages. He is not alone. Workers at McDonalds in the U S went on strike for $7an hour while the CEO takes home $20million. And the Bangladesh factory fire is another example of how major brands exploit Asian workers.

Boardroom remuneration, bonuses, pension and severance packages in the quoted corporations and banks, where the bosses and directors take no personal financial risks, are obscene. The wealth gap has grown to unsustainable levels and with over 6million out of work in Spain how can Rajoy ask for patience when the austerity measures are simply not being shared by the country’s privileged elite who collect sobresueldos, abusive salaries, pensions and indemnities and hold fortunes in offshore accounts in tax havens? None more so than Mr Sainz who received from Mr Botin a generous retirement gift for services rendered of 88 million euro when most workers have payouts limited to a few weeks salary for each year worked. It is totally unacceptable in a democratic civilised society.

Talking of democracy in our society I have just received a lesson. I was invited to the inauguration of the Dali Exhibition at the Museo Reina Sofia. Dressing appropriately for the occasion I arrived to collect my personal invitation expecting to mingle with Madrid’s elite. Only there was a long line of Madrilenos all the way from the entrance, backing up around the corner and up Calle Atocha. Clearly the organisers had chosen to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see this major exhibition. I did not stay, not because I am a snob, but because I had already been to the Press viewing and did not fancy the long wait.

There was a report in the UK regarding the changing class structure suggesting there are now seven different levels. I still see three classes. The Tax Avoiding class at the top, the Benefit Cheats class at the bottom and the Ripped Off class in between. The Tabloids love to make class distinctions in their articles.

“Fred X, a plumber, who lives in a £325000 bungalow in Bolton, is alleged to have driven his second hand £27000 BMW coupe to the victim’s £1.2million, gated mansion in Southport, where he set fire to her £40000 Range Rover and let her horses loose from the stable before driving away. A neighbour, Jim X, a local shopkeeper, whose £350000 cottage was close by, told the Police he had spotted a BMW pass by at high speed. It is believed Fred X met the victim in a bar during a golf holiday on the Costa del Sol.” Get the picture?

We are increasingly living in a rip off society. Beware everything from restaurants, drinks food, utility and telephone bills, premium numbers, which I avoid using, and bank charges. Whenever the telephone bill arrives my wife always double checks and invariably finds anomalies. After lengthy telephone conversations we end up with a refund. A couple of years ago I had to make a complaint to the Bank of Spain over fees taken by Bankinter. It took almost a year and a strong defence by the bank, but I actually succeeded in my reclamacion. It is sad but we can no longer trust anything or anyone. So if you think you are being overcharged do something about it.

Expats in Spain are now faced with the new tax on worldwide assets which comes into force this month. I think it is a totally unfair tax since there are many people who are asset rich, having saved and paid taxes all their lives, but have small pensions. Their living standards will fall. It is also discriminatory and perhaps against human rights as it infringes privacy. It is highly unlikely that the Spanish rich will pay. If the privileged elite, like Emilio Botin, declared all their assets, it would cost them millions each year. They will probably find ways to obtain exemptions from their political friends. This is what happened in France who also have a tax on wealth.

Meanwhile in Rome there is at last a new Government but it looks as if the winner of the Houdini award is, yet again…..Silvio Berlusconi. Talking of awards, we seem to have an outbreak of award disease. Have you noticed how almost every product or service seems to be award winning; except nobody knows what award or who awards the awards. Spain has an award winning deficit, the UK award winning bank bonuses, France, an award winning tax evader, Germany, an award winning sauerkraut, and I am not referring to Angela.

I joined the manif yesterday in Madrid which was a very peaceful and orderly protest and which in the present circumstances, is rather surprising. Have you received the forms regarding appointments to the NUJ councils? Once again remember to let me have any news or information which might be of interest to fellow members. I leave you with an image of Barcenas and an up dated version of Goya’s Tres de Mayo

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