Public airing for private equity

Amidst a crush reminiscent of a popular hanging at Tyburn in days gone by, crowds of journalists, industry-watchers and other connoisseurs of parliamentary theatre thronged Portcullis House on Wednesday afternoon to witness the only slightly less brutal contemporary equivalent of a public execution. The appearance of four of private equity's shadowy leading lights before the hand-picked hatchetmen and women of the Treasury Select Committee.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The condemned men (as it were) were Robert Easton of Carlyle Group, Dominic Murphy of KKR, Damon Buffini of Permira and Philip Yea of 3i, all of them called to account for ‘paying less tax than a cleaning lady' as another member of the PE clan described it recently. (Read MT's recent exclusive profile of Philip Yea here) There should have been five, but David Blitzer of Blackstone cried off claiming pressure of work due to his firm's imminent IPO. A smart way of avoiding what turned into a very long, hot afternoon's grilling for those that did turn up.

The Committee members had clearly been waiting to get this lot in their sights and went to work with a relish. Chairman John McFall accused them of ‘Fighting like ferrets in a sack' before expressing amazement that none of the four could tell him how much capital gains tax they paid. ‘You guys are supposed to be the masters of the universe.' Not to be outdone, his colleague George Mudie added, ‘Stop waffling, you're treating us like mugs.'

But with all that blood sport and verbal sparring, the session generated much more heat than illumination. The Committee's assaults may have kept the assembled billionaires on the back foot, but they failed to deliver any knockout blows. In the end the PE princes left with their honour - and metaphorical necks - intact. Hardly surprising, as it's hard to think of four people more skilled at keeping their own counsel than this lot.

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