Trusting "smart people" with passive investments is a luxury of the rich—at great cost to the poor
Every few months or so, a new report seems to reveal dodgy finances of mega corporations and the super rich. Last autumn it was the Panama Papers and this week it’s the Paradise Papers: a horde of documents revealing hidden tax affairs allowing those with means and knowledge to stow away wealth offshore to escape high tax bills back home.
Apple has been on our radar for years, with increased scrutiny – and indeed, demands – over its beneficial relationship with Ireland, culminating with €13bn in back taxes the EU says Apple owes Ireland. In fairness, both Ireland and Apple have appealed the ruling, with Ireland graciously insisting Apple owes us no such amount.
And while corporations have been getting away with legal – if sneaky – tax avoidance since the dawn of capitalism, leaks like the Panama Papers reveal it’s not just businesses getting away it.
Enter Bono, neé Paul Hewson, stage left. The papers reveal Bono, under his given name, holds a "passive investment" in a Lithuanian shopping centre, routed through a Malta firm.
Full-disclosure: I am generally pro-Bono. And as my husband reminded me as I was getting slightly twitchy about this topic, he's a soft target. A rock star who not only sings about justice, he preaches on it from the stage, the pulpit, even the bush, putting himself on the front lines of accountability... and scrutiny. When U2 came under fire over a decade ago for avoiding Irish taxes by having their company based in the Netherlands, the outcry was fierce, but short-lived.
As one friend put it, “I would prefer those who lived out of Kingdom values and know Jesus to have more money, than those who don’t know Him.”
Well, sure. But we’d also expect them to knock down the doors of the Dáil demanding the immediate building of new social housing, homeless accommodation, and long-term relief in the rental sector.
I venture we would even expect them to fund it.
If it's only right that Christ-followers with a Kingdom mindset have access to more financial resources than those who don't, so as to make eternal investments rather than earthly ones, the least we can do is hold them accountable to it.
On the contrary, being quiet about it, and trusting one’s resources to “smart people” who can keep it, save it, and multiply it solely for one’s personal benefit, is a luxury of the super-rich, and it comes at great cost to Ireland’s poor.
Writes Karlin Lillington for The Irish Times, "Sneaky tax avoidance is not victimless. It directly results in state funding losses for infrastructure, schools, libraries, transport, roads and social welfare supports for the poorest. These are lost taxes in walloping amounts."
Bono immediately released a statement addressing the leaked information, saying he was "assured by those running the company that it is fully tax compliant, but if that is not the case I want to know as much as the tax office does, and so I also welcome the audit they have said they will undertake.”
Of course, the Panama Papers reveal other extremely wealthy people are doing the exact same thing, from Iceland to China, the US to the Queen England. But perhaps a lack of public reprimand (let alone public surprise) is par for the course: those who don't know Jesus are free of the spiritual burden to know any better.
Can we say the same of Bono?