Friday, October 27, 2017

The Isle of Man is about to become part of a major global news story. And it is not going to be good news

Yesterday the lead news story on Manx Radio, the national radio station of the Isle of Man, was about Value Added Tax (VAT - or sales tax) on aircraft being imported into the European Union. Next week the BBC is expected to broadcast a television program on the subject.

Before you jump on a plane and fly to Douglas, this is not because a large number of listeners to the Station for the Nation are looking to buy business jets. Instead, importing aircraft into the Isle of Man is about to become part of a major global news story. And it is not going to be good news.

Appleby, a leading off-shore law firm, suffered a data breach last year. Much of this data is now with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a coalition of several hundred journalists. The ICIJ has won Pulitzer Prizes for the way it coordinated the publication of the Panama Papers and other large leaks. Journalists at the BBC, The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, the UK’s Guardian and others around the world have been working on the Appleby data since January.

It is still unclear exactly what will come out. The ICIJ and the journalists working on the story are not revealing any details yet. This may be because of the amount of information they have. The Mossack Fonseca leak, which has brought down numerous politicians and a few governments, involved 11.5 million documents.

But because the Isle of Man Government has said that it has been asked questions relating to VAT on aircraft, the one thing you can guarantee is that business jets are involved. The ICIJ is expected to say that business jet buyers have imported aircraft into the European Union via the Isle of Man to avoid paying taxes.

Appleby and the Isle of Man Government deny doing anything wrong. The Government has already audited 33 deals out of the 262 aircraft structures that are live. The Isle of Man follows the same rules as the UK and it has asked the UK Treasury to independently investigate. The UK will report back next year.

We all know that there are aircraft buyers and advisers willing to break rules. If anyone has done it deliberately they deserve to be punished. There is no reason why a billionaire should not pay VAT on their aircraft, just like everyone else on the goods they buy.

But if the ICIJ finds proof – and this is a horrendously complex subject – it will be a case where a few people have damaged the reputation of everyone else. This is not good for the Isle of Man or business aviation. It is also worth stressing that the Isle of Man Aircraft Registry has nothing to do with VAT and you do not need to register an aircraft on the island in order to import it.

Howard Quayle, the Isle of Man’s Chief Minister, is visibly worried about how the leaks will affect his country. Advisers on the Isle of Man are worried, as are some owners. But, like Appleby’s staff and clients, all they can do is wait for the story to break.

(Alasdair Whyte - Corporate Jet Investor)

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