By Troublemaker
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2805

Being ‘Culturally British’ lets firm game tax avoidance

Troublemaker looks at the news of the week including; how to game the tax system and jobs after Tory donations
Issue 2805
Stilll from computer game grand theft auto

Grand Tax Avoidance

A government scheme set up to boost “culturally British video games has showered a vast portion of its riches on one hugely profitable firm. Rockstar Games has revealed it claimed £68.4 million in Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR) in 2020-2021. That’s equivalent to 38 percent of the entire amount of VGTR paid out that year.

The amount Rockstar claims is rising every year, taking the total the US-owned company has claimed to a staggering £205 million. In order to receive VGTR, a game has to accredited as “Culturally British” by the British Film Institute.

Since the introduction of the relief in 2014 through to 31 March 2021, 1,239 games received this certification. Of these, Rockstar published only two, with Grand Theft Auto V receiving accreditation in 2015, and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2019.

Grand Theft Auto V is the most commercially successful product in the history of the entertainment industry, with total revenues estimated to be £5 billion since the game’s release in 2013. The game is published by Take-Two Interactive Inc. under its Rockstar brand. Take-Two is a US listed multinational company. Grand Theft Auto I was first developed in Britain by DMA Design in the late 1990s. After DMA was bought by Take-Two, game development continued at Rockstar North Limited based in Edinburgh.

Analysis by Tax Watch up to 2018 showed that Rockstar and Take-Two companies based in Britain had not paid any corporation tax in the preceding last ten years. Rockstar North Ltd, Instead, the firms have gained tens of millions of pounds.


Top jobs after donations to the Tory party coincidence

Two businessmen who together donated more than £1 million to the Tories have landed prominent public health jobs. Oluwole Kolade was made a non-executive director and deputy chair of NHS England for three years.

In just over a decade, Kolade has donated £859,342 to Conservative party headquarters, the party’s London mayoral candidate in 2021 and the party’s branch in Hitchin and Harpenden.

Kolade made over a third of the donations since Boris Johnson became prime minister. Kolade is a managing partner of Livingbridge, a private equity firm with extensive investments in private healthcare. On its website the company said it “has made a private equity investment in the healthcare and education sector in almost every single year for the past two decades”. Livingbridge’s portfolio includes multiple NHS suppliers, and private dental ­companies, care providers and fertility firms.

Another prolific donor, Simon Blagden, was made a member of the UK Health Security Agency advisory board in April. Since 2005, Blagden and companies he is associated with have donated £376,000 to the Conservatives. He was also a chairman of Fujitsu UK, which sued the NHS over a failed IT ­project. A parliamentary ­committee’s inquiry into the debacle in 2013 cited reports that Fujitsu UK has claimed £700 million from the Department of Health. There is of course no suggestion that improper recruitment ­processes were followed.


One of the biggest donors to the Tories is suspected of secretly funnelling huge amounts to the party from a Russian account, according to a bank alert filed to Britain’s national law enforcement agency. The donation, of £520,000, was made in February 2018 in the name of Ehud Sheleg, a wealthy London art dealer who was most recently the Conservative Party’s treasurer.

But documents filed with the authorities last year and reviewed by The New York Times say that the money originated in a Russian account of Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov. He was once a senior politician in the previous pro-Kremlin government of Ukraine. He now owns real estate and hotel businesses in Crimea and Russia.

 A lawyer for Sheleg acknowledged that he and his wife received millions of dollars from his father-in-law in the weeks before the donation. But they said that was “entirely separate” from the campaign contribution.


Carillion accountants £14 million fraud fine

Top accountancy firm KPMG faces one of the largest fines in British audit history. Former staff forged documents and misled the regulator over audits for companies including the collapsed outsourcer Carillion. The settlement is the latest in a long-running saga relating to events surrounding Carillion’s failure in January 2018. The outsourcer collapsed with £7 billion of debts resulting in 3,000 job losses and causing chaos across hundreds of its projects.  These included two big hospitals, schools and roads.

 The Financial Reporting Council (FRC)—which claims to regulate accountants—confirmed the £14.4 million fine at a London tribunal hearing last week.  The tribunal upheld allegations that KPMG and former staff created false meeting minutes and retroactively edited spreadsheets, before sharing those documents with the FRC.


A violent “death match” wrestling event at a Tory club is being investigated by police. The show at the Conservative Club in Seaham, County Durham, on 29 April saw blood-soaked performers attack each other with a garden strimmer and glass. The Colliery Championship Wrestling (CCW) event offered discounted family tickets. James Barrass of CCW apologised but said the audience had enjoyed it Footage taken during the event showed the two performers being cut with the gardening tool and having glass lighting tubes smashed over them as the audience of about 80 people watched just yards from the violence. Next bout Boris Johnson versus Rishi Sunak?


Another bunch of energy fat cats cash in. Neptune Energy last week revealed profits up sixfold. Oil and gas producer Neptune was founded in 2015 by former Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw. Centrica is the parent company of British Gas. Centrica is backed by the China Investment Corporation and private equity groups Carlyle and CVC Capital Partners. Neptune’s profit after tax rose to £400 million in the first three months of the year, against £63 million in the first quarter of 2021.


Barclays manages to be tax free  

Barclays has avoided nearly £2 billion in tax via a lucrative arrangement in Luxembourg that allowed it to pay less than 1 percent on profits in the tax haven for more than a decade.

A Guardian newspaper analysis of Barclays’ tax bills shows it is still benefiting from a decision in 2009. It booked profits from the £12.5 billion sale of a fund management business in Luxembourg rather than in Britain where it is headquartered. By booking the profits overseas, Barclays was able to take advantage of a complex scheme whereby it could offset future profits against a drop in the value of company shares it acquired as part of the deal.

The decision has resulted in Barclays earning billions of pounds nearly tax-free for more than 12 years. Barclays employs only 54 staff in Luxembourg. But it is currently the bank’s third most profitable jurisdiction behind the US and Britain, with turnover of £1.1 billion last year. The bank has 46,000 staff in Britain and nearly 10,000 in the US.


Things they say

‘Cannot cook properly, they can’t cook a meal from scratch, they cannot budget’

Tory MP Lee Anderson explains why people use food banks. He claimed £222,000 in expenses in 2020-21—including £4,100 on travel and ‘subsistence’

‘The system was simply not built to be flexible’

The chancellor Rishi Sunak explains that the computer system prevents him from raising benefits

‘A bottle of champagne signed by Boris. Hugely valuable as a souvenir of partygate and the exemplary behaviour and morality of our dear leader!’

A programme from a charity event in Oliver Dowden’s Hertfordshire constituency shows the Tory party chairman had donated a Boris-signed bottle of champagne

‘Powerful backers within the farming community’

Porn watching, former Tory MP Neil Parish explains there is pressure for him to stand as an independent

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