... stop avoiding your taxes?
I know you've said that you live on your private island in the Caribbean for 'health reasons'. But the British Virgin Islands also happens to be a notorious tax paradise for the super wealthy, with no income tax and no wealth tax.
I know you've said you don't mind paying taxes, but recent court filings tell a different story. Your CEO Josh Bayliss wrote in an internal email in April 2020: 'Richard cannot escape the criticism. The truth is he has paid as little tax as possible.'
You love waving the Union flag, and you see yourself as a devoted patriot. But then why have you always done your best to contribute as little as possible to the NHS and other essential government services?
You've argued that your British companies do pay tax – when they really have to. But from the very beginning, you've done everything to limit your contribution.
First you took the illegal route. When you were 19, you pretended to export records that were, in reality, being sold in Britain. In this way, you evaded a small fortune in purchase tax. The government found out, you paid a hefty fine, and you learnt your lesson.
From then on, you stopped evading taxes (which is morally dubious and illegal), and you started avoiding taxes (which is also morally dubious, but technically legal – as long as you can afford enough corporate lawyers and accountants).
Back in 1973, when Virgin Music had its first big hit (Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells), you funneled the profits, tax-free, to the British Channel Islands. This was the beginning of your off-shore empire.
In 1992, you used a similar construction when you sold Virgin Music to EMI for £560 million: shifting the profits to the Channel Islands saved you some £84 million in tax
After that, you moved the headquarters of many Virgin companies to offshore locations such as the Virgin Islands, Switzerland and Singapore.
In 2019, shortly before the pandemic and just before you'd ask for a huge government bailout of Virgin, you said that taxing the wealthy ‘makes sense' and you 'don’t think they would object to that'
But doesn't your whole career suggest otherwise?
I know you've promised to give away half of your fortune to charity. That's great. I'm not against philanthropy. The great movements of the past – from the abolitionists to the suffragettes – relied on a couple of morally ambitious philanthropists.
Today we have the inspiring examples of people like MacKenzie Scott and Leah Hunt-Hendrix, who are rapidly giving away their fortunes to good causes. And not for PR-reasons.
But please don't boast about your giving when you also live in a tax haven. Because it's not your money you're being so generous with, it's the public's money.
Or at least it should be.
In your review of my book you mention the chapter on the corruption of power, and how it can cause 'shameless' behaviour. Sorry for my Dutch directness here, but I was actually thinking of people like you when I wrote that passage...
To me, it seems shameless to advertise your philanthropy after decades of massive tax avoidance. But hopefully you've not lost your capacity to blush, which is – after all – one of the unique abilities of humankind.
So here's my challenge to you: move your tax residency back to the UK, work with groups like Oxfam and Millionaires for Humanity (millionairesforhumanity.org/) to provide transparency and make amends. And start a serious lobbying effort for a wealth tax for the super rich.
I guess most people will think it's unlikely that you'd ever do anything like that. But we both agree that humans are not inherently selfish, that it helps to see the best in others, and assume they can always do better!