Charities named as beneficiaries in tax-avoidance scheme say they have received no donations

The British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK and others are named in a Sunday Times investigation in connection with offshore trusts

British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands

Charities and campaign groups that are reportedly named as beneficiaries in hundreds of offshore trusts set up to avoid tax have said they have no knowledge of the trusts and have not received any donations from them.

A Sunday Times investigation, published yesterday, revealed a tax-avoidance scheme in which not-for-profit organisations including the British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, the NSPCC, the National Trust, Greenpeace and Amnesty International were named by investors as the beneficiaries of offshore trusts. But the paper said the trusts benefited only the investors and the charities involved did not receive any money.

The newspaper said the trusts were set up in the British Virgin Islands, a British overseas territory, and the Cook Islands in the Pacific to shelter hundreds of millions of pounds from the tax authorities.

A cache of 2.5 million documents leaked to the Sunday Times revealed that as many as 300 trusts existed with charities named as their main beneficiaries. The most commonly named charity was the Red Cross.

The newspaper said that some charities in Italy that were named as beneficiaries were considering legal action to see if they could claim any of the funds.

A spokesman for Amnesty International UK said the organisation had no knowledge of the trusts prior to the Sunday Times investigation. He said that Amnesty International would consider if there was any merit in taking legal action to try to access the funds but he said he thought there was little prospect of the organisation obtaining any money.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said in a statement that the charity had no idea it was a beneficiary of an offshore trust and had not received any money from it.

"It looks like our name has been exploited by somebody operating from an island notorious for facilitating tax avoidance," he said.

"The fact that tax avoiders may be using the names of campaign groups to pull it off is a distasteful irony. Greenpeace does not accept any money from governments or corporations."

A spokesman for Greenpeace said it would not consider taking legal action to retrieve money from the trusts.

Lynne Robb, chief financial officer of Cancer Research UK, said it was unaware of the scheme. "We have investigated this matter and have found no records of any donations from this group of companies," she said.

A spokeswoman for the NSPCC said that two trusts that listed the charity as a beneficiary, the Trigon Trust and Zegna III Holdings, did not appear in the charity’s databases of supporters.

"It is possible that payments might have been received under another name, but as far as we know, we have not been a beneficiary of either organisation," she said.

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