Cameron comes clean on father’s offshore trust, admits profiting from tax haven

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses students at Exeter University in Exeter, Britain April 7, 2016. © Dan Kitwood
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that he has benefited from shares in an offshore trust set up by his father, Ian, which was revealed in the Panama Papers leak. Cameron claims to have sold the shares before taking office in 2010, however.

“We owned 5,000 units in Blairmore Investment Trust, which we sold in January 2010. That was worth something like £30,000 (about $42,000),” he told the UK’s ITV news, admitting that these have been “a difficult few days.”

Cameron says that, between 1997 and 2010, he and his wife, Samantha Cameron, owned shares in Blairmore Investment Trust, a multimillion-pound offshore trust fund established by his late father, Ian Cameron.

“I sold them all in 2010 because I was going to become prime minister,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to say you’ve got other agendas, other interests, all the rest of it.”

Cameron said he sold the shares months before taking up residence at 10 Downing Street in January of 2010 and paid income tax on the dividends from the units. The family’s offshore firm also was moved to Ireland that year.

“I paid income tax on the dividends. There was a profit on it but it was less than the capital gains tax allowance so I didn’t pay capital gains tax. But it was subject to all the UK taxes in all the normal way,” Cameron said, assuring that “frankly” he doesn’t “have anything to hide.”

“I want to be as clear as I can about the past, about the present, about the future,” he said.

Cameron, who is facing outrage over revelations concerning his private finances, shared with ITV that he had received £300,000 (about $420,000) in inheritance from his father, who died in 2010. Yet, he claimed that he didn’t know whether any of that money came from an offshore source.

In one of several statements, Downing Street also confirmed that Cameron’s wife Samantha “owns a small number of shares connected to her father’s land, which she declares on her tax return.”

The Prime Minister’s family has come under scrutiny since the so-called Panama Papers uncovered Ian Cameron’s links to the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which allegedly aids the wealthy in avoiding taxes by registering their finances in shell companies based in tax havens.

However, on Thursday, Cameron insisted that his father did not mean to avoid paying taxes, but rather had honest intentions, calling the suspicions a “fundamental misconception.”

“It was set up after exchange controls went so that people who wanted to invest in dollar denominated shares and companies could do so,” he said.

Cameron said it was “difficult” to read “criticisms of my father and his business practices – my dad, a man I love and admire and miss every day.”

The explanation provided by the prime minister in the interview is the fifth to emerge since Monday. Downing Street initially tried to shield Cameron from scrutiny, saying on April 4 that the family’s finances were a “private matter.”

Downing Street had to later clarify that the Cameron family does not benefit from offshore funds and will not benefit from them in the future.

“I have some savings, which I get some interest from, and I have a house, which we used to live in, which we now let out while we are living in Downing Street, and that’s all I have,” he said.

Pressed by Sky News earlier this week, Cameron told reporters that he owned “no shares” and only had “a salary as prime minister.”

His comments have failed to ease the situation, however. A newly-unearthed letter from 2013 shows that Cameron shielded offshore trusts from an EU crackdown.

Addressing then-European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the Tory PM argued that trusts should not be subject to the same transparency rules as companies, while, at the time, the EU was considering publishing a centralized register of the main owners of offshore trusts as part of a broad crackdown on secretive financial practices.

Two years later in September of 2015, Cameron called for more transparency and urged territories like the Cayman Islands to create a public register of financial interests.