British Prime Minister David Cameron braced for a parliamentary grilling on Monday over his offshore dealings revealed by the Panama Papers leak as he announced plans to criminalise firms whose staff facilitate tax evasion.
Cameron was forced to publish his tax returns over the weekend after admitting he held shares in his late father’s investment fund based in the Bahamas, which he sold before becoming prime minister in 2010.
But in his first appearance in the House of Commons since the row broke one week ago, the Conservative leader will be pressed by the opposition Labour Party to reveal further details of his financial affairs.
While not illegal, Cameron’s offshore dealings also risk undermining his efforts to lead international action against tax evasion, which will see him host an anti-corruption summit in London in May.
In a bid to counter days of negative headlines in Britain, Cameron has announced plans for legislation this year to make companies criminally responsible if they fail to stop staff facilitating tax evasion.
“This government has done more than any other to take action against corruption in all its forms, but we will go further,” Cameron said in a statement.
The plans, first mooted last year, have been criticised by lawyers and accountants who warn they could criminalise firms who unwittingly break the rules, and could put Britain’s financial sector at a disadvantage.
– Other ministers’ finances –
In a first for a British prime minister, Cameron on Sunday published a summary of his finances for the past six years, revealing his salary, expenses, rental income from a house he owns in London and savings.
He also revealed that he received a £200,000 ($280,000, 240,000 euros) gift from his mother, on top of £300,000 received in his father’s will, raising questions over whether the gift was intended to avoid inheritance tax.
Cameron and his wife Samantha had previously owned shares in Ian Cameron’s investment fund Blairmore, which was named in the leak of documents by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca — the so-called Panama Papers — and which they sold for £31,500.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We need to know why he put this money overseas in the first place.”
“What Panama has shown, more than anything, is that there is one rule for the rich and one rule for the rest,” he said.
Scotland’s first minister, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon, also published her tax details, putting pressure on Cameron’s ministers, in particular finance minister George Osborne, to do the same.
“It’s the UK cabinet that sets the framework of legislation, that discusses what UK policy is and we have heard absolutely nothing about other members of the cabinet,” said SNP lawmaker Angus Robertson.
A source in Osborne’s department said he had “never had any offshore shareholdings or other interests”.
Currently lawmakers only have to declare shareholdings over £70,000, but junior defence minister Penny Mordaunt said all politicians may be forced into greater transparency “if that is what the electorate require”.
– Pressure over tax havens –
Cameron only revealed his tax affairs after days of partial statements, and he admitted on Saturday that “I could have handled this better”.
He is also under pressure to get tough on overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, tax havens which played a leading role in the transactions revealed by the Panama Papers.
“Britain must exercise influence over its overseas territories. We have to make that clear to the Brits in upcoming talks,” Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary group deputy leader for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Cameron has announced a new taskforce to scrutinise the Panama Papers, and officials have said they hope to agree new transparency measures with the overseas territories before the May summit.