Celebrities including George Michael, Sir Michael Caine and Gary Barlow have been named by the Times as members of an aggressive tax avoidance scheme.
The Liberty scheme, run by Leeds-based Mercury Tax Group between 2005 and 2009, allowed investors to rack up huge offshore losses that could be written off against their tax bills. It allowed investors to reduce the amount they paid in tax to 7% rather than 40%, while higher rate taxpayers could earn £1 million each year tax free.
While the scheme was legal, it's been challenged by HM Revenue and Customs in court and is set to go to a tribunal early next year.
The Times' leaked list of investors includes Anne Robinson - reported to have tried to shelter £4 million. Gary Barlow is said to have invested £4.46 million, George Michael £6.2 million and Michael Caine £600,000. Others included top businessmen, lawyers and doctors. In all, around £1.2 billion is believed to have been invested in the scheme, which had around 1,600 investors. The celebrities named in the report have not commented on the story.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Take That singer Gary Barlow and his bandmates Howard Donald and Mark Owen had invested in a tax avoidance scheme billed as a movie investment company - leading to calls for Barlow to return his OBE.
The Treasury is currently engaged in a clamp-down on "aggressive and contrived" tax avoidance schemes that's expected to claw back around £5 billion in unpaid tax. New rules mean that tax bills for disputed amounts can be sent out even before cases go to tribunal - something that Ingenious Media describes in a statement as "de facto retrospective, indiscriminate and unfair".
The first demands - ranging between a few thousand pounds and several million - should start appearing later this month, after the new finance bill passes into law. If the tax avoidance schemes are deemed legal at tribunal, the money will be refunded.