Why the Panama Papers cause such anger

EDITOR'S BLOG: It's not just Russians, Nigerians and Fifa that deserve to be exposed.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 19 Jun 2016

The rich and their relationship to money is a source of fascination for all of us. A few years ago I was researching a long feature about the legendary Tchenguiz brothers, shooting stars in the pre-crash business firmament. They were worth billions.

I attended the house in Mayfair of one of their acquaintances to get some background. It was the kind of place that changes hands for tens of millions of pounds. As I was interviewing this guy in the enormous drawing room his wife burst in in a state of high excitement. She had in her hand a bootleg DVD of a film she’d just acquired. Got a few bob off, it was a bargain. Her husband, who the Sunday Times Rich List suggested was worth around the £400 million mark, seemed pleased with her endeavours.

‘If you count the pennies the pounds will look after themselves,’ is the saying. For many of the super-rich it is a mantra that they've worked so hard for their cash and are so deserving of it that nobody is going to take it away from them. They will go to great lengths to ensure the tax man doesn’t get his sweaty, undeserving fingers on the moolah. When your wealth reaches a certain point there is an army of lawyers, accountants and tax advisors who are there to help you fight for your pile. The methods they use often fly close to the wind. Just ask the comedian Jimmy Carr.

It is little surprise that a nasty kleptocracy like Russia produces so many individuals in the Panama Papers. Likewise China and Nigeria are both as bent as a nine bob notes, just look at their positions on the Transparency International tables. FIFA people are corrupt? You don’t say.

We all know this and don’t expect anything different. What should be pursued though, as Craig Murray points out here, are the tax evading fat cats in the West.

It’s easy to dismiss these latest revelations as just another round of rich-bashing, but this is not simply a story about envy. What really angers us poor saps who are shackled to the UK PAYE system, and the army of the distressed blue collar workers in the States who support Trump, is a perceived lack of ‘fairness.’ We recall the legendary line of billionairess and ‘Queen of Mean’, the late Leona Helmsley who once said, ‘only the little people pay taxes.’

Although we are a nation of moaners we should remember how lucky we are to live in a prosperous place, within the rule of law and where there is a civil society. But this system needs paying for, now more than ever, as Osborne, and his oppos across most of the wealthy world, are so skint. It’s for this reason that the Panama Papers quite rightly make so many people so cross - it’s the rich taking the mickey.

Also there are hugely wealthy individuals like this month’s MT cover star Tim Parker who are uneasy about wealth and the current social contract. He’s worth £180 million but thinks he ought to pay more and not be allowed to take it with him when he goes. 

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