The company has been criticised by the Tax Justice Network
The company planning to open a controverisal coal mine in Cumbria is ultimately controlled by a company registered in the Cayman Islands.
West Cumbria Mining Limited was given planning permission on Tuesday to open the first new deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years.
Cumbria County Council – which contains Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and independent councillors – voted in favour of granting the underwater mine planning permission.
The decision was criticised by environmentalists like Green MP Caroline Lucas and Greenpeace who called it “appalling”.
In its latest accounts, West Cumbria Mining Limited says its principal activity is “developing metallurgical coal projects in the UK” and it is registered in England and Wales.
West Cumbria Mining Limited says it is 100% owned by West Cumbria Mining (Holdings) Limited.
West Cumbria Mining (Holdings) Limited is 82% owned by EMR Capital Investment Limited (No. 3B PTE Ltd) – which is registered in Singapore.
The ultimate parent entity of EMR Capital Investment Limited (No. 3B PTE Ltd) is EMR Capital Resources Fund 1, LP – which is registered in the Cayman Islands.
The chief executive of the Tax Justice Network Alex Cobham said:
“We campaign for the identification of the ultimate beneficial owners of companies, trusts and foundations because anonymity creates a series of threats. In the case of public contracts and permissions such as this one, the risks are all the greater.”
“First, a structure like this, running through a series of financial secrecy jurisdictions creates tax risk – in this case for the UK. It makes it significantly easier for a company to shift profits away, and to hide capital gains, so that a fair contribution may not be made in the place of operation – despite the company benefiting from the infrastructure, rule of law, educated workforce, natural resources and so on.”
“Second, this structure creates the risk that liabilities will not be met. Imagine, for example, that the mining operation goes ahead and is later demonstrated to have caused major environmental damage: who will the council pursue to ensure that those costs are covered by the people who took the private benefits? There’s a clear possibility that secretive offshore ownership allows not only the dodging of taxes due during the good times, but can also leave the public with any bill for the bad times.”
“Lastly, in this case, anonymous ownership poses a threat to governance. We’ve seen time and again how offshore secrecy has allowed politicians and public officials in countries around the world to hide the fact that they have a financial stake in a project for which they are making policy decisions. Given that this case has seen local councillors unexpectedly back a project with the potential to cause grave damage, it is surely incumbent on the council to provide complete transparency about the ownership.”
“In this specific case, it seems likely that the ultimate owners are the Australian private equity firm EMR Capital – but that is all the more reason why the full ownership chain should be made public, assuming there is nothing to hide.”
In response, WCM’s CEO Mark Kirkbride said:
‘WCM will pay all royalties due under the terms of our coal licences to The Coal Authority. WCM will pay all business rates applicable and ensure competitive salaries, pay and benefits to all employees and will ensure that all UK taxes are paid in full. WCM fully subscribes and meets the UK living wage policy. There will be no tax avoidance or evasion.”
“Furthermore, WCM has a legally binding requirement, imposed by the planning process and Cumbria County Council, to implement a restoration bond for the lifetime of the project so that there are no risks in terms of liabilities to the public purse.”
“Any suggestion that WCM is not governed correctly are strongly refuted, with strict compliance to all UK requirements and director responsibilities. There is nothing to hide at all.”
A WCM spokesperson added: “WCM is a UK registered private company. We have a series of shareholders, with a major shareholder being EMR Capital. EMR are a mining focussed private equity fund based in Australia. They have various subsidiary companies – there is no significance whatsoever to our project that there is a Cayman Islands subsidiary.”
There is no suggestion that WCM is breaking any regulations.
Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot Forward
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