Private firm Blackstone '˜avoided millions in tax on St Enoch deal'

Private equity firm Blackstone avoided tens of millions of pounds in UK taxes on property deals in Glasgow and London, it was reported last night.

According to a national broadcaster, the leaked Paradise Papers reveal the company used offshore companies to purchase and operate the St Enoch Shopping Centre in Glasgow and the Chiswick Business Park in London.

The papers reportedly show how accountancy firms developed strategies to minimise or avoid tax.

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Blackstone yesterday said its investments were “wholly compliant with UK tax laws”.

The company is one of the world’s biggest private equity groups.

It was reported that leaked documents from the offshore law firm Appleby show how the group structured two major UK property deals.

Top accountancy firms allegedly issued documents to Blackstone outlining how it could use trusts in the tax haven of Jersey and a complex structure of companies in Luxembourg for the purchase of both Chiswick Park and the St Enoch Centre.

The company bought the St Enoch Centre, which houses almost 100 stores, for about £190 million in 2013.

Documents reportedly show it would have avoided stamp duty of £7.6m and corporate tax on up to £10m in annual rental income.

Blackstone purchased Chiswick Park, a 33-acre office development in west London, in 2011 for £480m.

The majority of the site was sold to the Chinese government for £780m in 2014.

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According to a national broadcaster, the data suggests Blackstone’s tax structures allowed it to avoid about £19m in stamp duty on the purchase.

The tax structure also meant it could avoid tax of up to £30m annual rental income and capital gains tax on the sale of the business park, which could have been tens of millions of pounds.

Blackstone said: “Blackstone’s investments are wholly compliant with UK and international tax laws and regulations.

“The property investment structures in question were acquired from institutional investors and are of a type commonly used for decades for investments in UK real estates, including by listed companies and a variety of institutional investors, and were adopted after appropriate advice was taken from leading tax and legal advisors.”

Deloitte, which advised on the St Enoch purchase, declined to comment.

PwC, who advised on Chiswick Park, said: “The advice we provide is given in accordance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, including proper disclosure to tax authorities.”

It was also reported last night that the Paradise Papers showed that the Prince of Wales lobbied for a change to two climate change deals after investing in an offshore carbon credit trading company.

The Duchy of Cornwall paid 113,500 dollars (£58,000) in 2007 for 50 shares in the Bermuda-registered Sustainable Forestry Management Ltd (SFM) in 2007.

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Following the purchase, Charles allegedly lobbied for a change to two climate change deals that would have directly benefited the business, according to two national media organisations.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Clarence House denied that Charles had spoken out on the two deals in order to benefit financially.

“The Prince has never chosen to speak out on a topic simply because of a company that The Duchy may have invested in,” he said.

“In the case of climate change his views are well-known, indeed he has been warning of the threat of global warming to our environment for over 30 years.”

The spokesman added that carbon markets were just one of many strategies Charles had championed to try and slow the pace of climate change.

Separately, it was reported yesterday that a major oil firm, headquartered in Aberdeen, used an offshore haven for its “tax position”.

Ithaca Energy allegedly set up a “shell” company in the tax haven of Bermuda in 2012 to purchase its share in a $50m (£38m) North Sea oil production platform.

In the Paradise Papers, Ithaca stated it was “important” to its tax position that the company was controlled from Bermuda. Ithaca said its tax charges were “not reduced” by the Bermudian company. A spokesman for the energy firm said the offshore company “was set up for corporate structuring reasons”.

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