Lawmakers demand review of Prince Charles's tax affairs

LONDON Mon Nov 4, 2013 7:20pm EST

Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall welcome Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) to Clarence House in London October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Tal Cohen/pool

Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall welcome Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) to Clarence House in London October 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tal Cohen/pool

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Charles should face greater tax scrutiny of his multi-million pound income from his centuries-old Duchy of Cornwall estate, an influential committee of lawmakers said on Tuesday.

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, the panel that has led inquiries into the tax affairs of Amazon, Starbucks and Google, called on the finance ministry in a report to review the hereditary estate's historic tax exemptions.

The vast Duchy, created in 1337 by King Edward III to provide an income for him and his heirs, pays no corporation tax or capital gains tax.

"This tax exemption might mean that competing businesses do not have a level playing field on which to operate," said committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge. "The Treasury should examine the impact on the marketplace of the Duchy engaging in commercial transactions while exempt from tax."

The estate, one of Britain's biggest landowners, is worth some 763 million pounds. It owns farms, cottages and pubs, as well as islands, a green power plant and the Oval cricket ground in London, and makes most of its money from managing these commercially.

Charles has voluntarily paid income tax since 1993 on his personal income from the Duchy, after the costs of his family's official duties are deducted. In 2012/13, that tax amounted to 4.4 million pounds ($7.0 million).

Labor lawmaker Austin Mitchell, one of the cross-party committee's members, described the estate as a "medieval anomaly" during an evidence session in July.

The committee said the finance ministry should do more to check its accounts.

The report coincides with greater scrutiny of the tax affairs of individuals and large corporations, and a heated political debate over the high cost of living. Prime Minister David Cameron put tax evasion and aggressive avoidance at the center of Britain's presidency of the Group of Eight developed nations.

The Duchy's 19 million pound surplus in 2012/13 funded Charles's public and private activities, as well as those of his wife Camilla and his sons William and Harry.

Treasury official Paula Diggle told the committee that parliament had looked at the issue in depth 20 years ago and decided it would be unfair to tax Charles twice, on his personal income and on the revenue from the Duchy.

A Duchy of Cornwall spokesman said in a statement: "We will carefully consider the content of the report, and will contribute as necessary to any response by the Treasury.

"We do not believe the Duchy has an unfair tax advantage over its competitors."

($1 = 0.6281 British pounds)

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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