Sainsbury's boss dishes up King-sized stake for his wife

Sainsbury's CEO Justin King has given £2m worth of shares to his wife for 'financial planning purposes'. Brave, in the current climate...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
King has doled out 700,000 of his 1.32 million shares in the supermarket group to his wife, Claire. So that’s around half of his £4m stake (based on current valuations).

It’s the explanation given in his statement that has got some people in a tizz: apparently it's for ‘financial planning purposes’, which, let's face it, means minimising your tax bill.

This may be perfectly legitimate; prudent, even. Tax experts cited by the Guardian reckon that if a dividend of about £100,000 was paid out on these shares, Mr and Mrs King would probably make an income tax saving of about £20,000 now the shares have passed to his non-working spouse. So they’ll be able to taste the difference.

But with corporate tax avoidance stories never far from the headlines at the moment (particularly in the Guardian), any rich CEO with a six-figure salary going out of his way to pay less tax to the Treasury – at a time when the Exchequer needs all the cash it can get – is bound to attract a bit of opprobrium.

The company was clearly keen to pre-empt an adverse reaction, suggesting that this kind of thing was 'quite common for company directors'. That may be the case, but it won't stop large chunks of the population perceiving it as unfair. Particularly in a week when taxation changes are likely to cause another reduction in household incomes, in real terms.

But can we really blame King? He was paid £2.4m in cash and benefits last year, so he's already coughing up a lot of tax – and the saving the family will receive from this move is clearly significant (and his son’s a racing driver, which is a pretty expensive hobby). Would any of us pass up on a perfectly legitimate way to minimise our tax bill?

Besides, as spouse-related tax avoidance goes, this is hardly on the Philip Green scale...

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