Paradise Papers: reputations unscathed?

With the media sensation surrounding Paradise Papers tempering, talk has turned to the legal and financial consequences of the leak – but what about the longer-term reputational fallout for those embroiled?

One of the first to be publicly named and shamed was Lewis Hamilton – four-time Formula One World Champion, who allegedly avoided paying £3.1 million in tax on a private jet he had imported to the UK. Hamilton has since chosen to remain silent, perhaps recognising that winning the public’s hearts and minds, in relation to his personal financial affairs, is unnecessary in his pursuit of distinction on the track. His position as Britain’s greatest Formula One driver is cemented, with or without passing the general public’s somewhat arbitrary, moral character test.
Similarly, will viewers stop watching Mrs Brown’s Boys because its actors were outed as allegedly having diverted more than £2 million through an offshore tax-avoidance scheme? At its peak, the show was adored by over 11 million viewers – will fans refuse to purchase boxsets, calendars, t-shirts and other sitcom memorabilia in economic protest? Brendon O’Carroll, the creator of the show, rushed to defend his co-stars claiming that “every penny [of tax] was paid”. Apart from the increasing media interest in the actors’ broader financial affairs (a recent report claims the O’Carroll family owns £3.4 million in Floridian real estate), time is yet to tell whether the leaks will have any real impact on the sitcom stars’ careers.

By the same token, half a million tourists are unlikely to stop flocking to Buckingham Palace every year because the Queen’s estate was found to have invested millions offshore. The news may have caused a temporary spike in anti-royalist sentiment – but who could hold a 91-year old lady, who happens to be the world’s longest reigning head of state with an exemplary record of public service, accountable for what was essentially the work of accountants working on behalf of the royal purse?
It’s still early days but the criticism faced by the accused has, so far, been less scathing than that heaped upon those implicated in the Panama Papers.

This somewhat muted, post-publication reaction could be result of several explanations. Either the general public is applying some level of reason to the highly-charged, reputation-slaying, media headlines and recognises that tax avoidance is essentially “tax efficiency” in the eyes of those who commit the deed.

Or maybe leaks of this kind are a hostage to fortune by those seeking to wreak reputational damage, serving, in the long-term, only to cement the public’s complacency, as celebrities, politicians and the super-rich hiding their wealth offshore becomes a disappointing and repetitious norm. Perhaps the punch is diluted because we suspect that some of the most vociferous critics are doing the same…

23 November 2017

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