Ben Elliot, the Conservative party’s embattled co-chair, jointly owned a secret offshore film financing company that indirectly benefited from more than £120,000 of UK tax credits.
The revelation that Elliot has a British Virgin Islands-based company – which he owns with Ben Goldsmith, the brother of the Tory peer and minister Zac – will raise fresh questions for the businessman, whose courting of ultra-wealthy but controversial political donors has already provoked widespread criticism.
The Pandora Papers leak shines a light on a BVI company Elliot and Goldsmith created to fund the making of Fire in Babylon, the pair’s 2010 documentary film about the great West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 80s.
Analysis of financial disclosures suggests the duo’s BVI company held a controlling stake in a British subsidiary that made the film. The UK company received a £600,000 loan from its BVI parent in 2008, plus £121,000 from a government scheme designed to incentivise film production in the UK between 2009 and 2011.
The film made a small loss, and without the tax credits the subsidiary would not have been able to fully repay its offshore creditors, the largest of which was Elliot’s and Goldsmith’s BVI company, which had loaned the UK business most of its funds.
While the arrangement does not appear to have breached any tax regulations or laws, it does raise questions about whether government film schemes should be helping to fund projects that are controlled in a tax haven. If Fire in Babylon had become profitable, then the structure might also have provided some tax advantages.
Elliot, a well-connected Old Etonian and the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, co-owns luxury concierge group Quintessentially, which has earned him a reputation as a fixer for the super-rich. He is credited with raising a record £37m for the Tories’ general election campaign in 2019.
Goldsmith, who also attended Eton, is a financier and a non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), where his brother is a minister.
Both Elliot and the Goldsmiths are close to Boris and Carrie Johnson. In July 2020, Elliot screened Fire in Babylon for the prime minister and his wife at their Downing Street flat, with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Ben Goldsmith also present.
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