University’s business guru dismisses links to ‘Panama Papers’ law firm

Jack May 4 April 2016

The Chair of the Judge Business School’s Advisory Board is one of many Cambridge figures who were today revealed to have connections to offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has been subject to the largest ever leak of confidential documents.

Lord Bilimoria is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords as well as being an Honorary Fellow of Sidney Sussex College since 2007, and is one of the shareholders of a Virgin Islands company called Mulberry Holdings Asset Limited.

The peer founded Cobra Beer, which fell into administration in 2009, and was criticised for his alleged use of a ‘pre-pack’ deal to buy back his stake in the company.

However, he hit back at allegations that he abandoned shareholders with debts of £71m, and said he would repay them in part. He is now the company’s Chairman.

Speaking to The Guardian, he claimed Mulberry was a dormant company founded “for my ex-shareholders in Cobra, many of whom are not resident in the UK” and added: “I am taxed in the UK on all my global income and all my interests are declared to the relevant authorities”.

Lord Bilimoria was appointed Chair of the Judge Business School’s Advisory Board this year, following a seven-year stint as a board member from 2008-2015. He was installed as an honorary fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 2007.

Sidney Sussex College has not yet responded to The Cambridge Student’s request for comment.

The Judge Business School’s External Affairs Office was unavailable for comment, but the school’s website says: “Cambridge Judge Business School benefits hugely from the advice and guidance of our Advisory Board, which comprises members of the external corporate community and meets twice a year.”

The University’s ‘mission and core values’, meanwhile, states that it supports “opportunities for innovative partnerships with business, charitable foundations, and healthcare”.

The peer has links across the higher education sector, serving as the Chancellor of the University of West London from 2005 to 2010 before taking up his current position as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Cobra is a sponsor of Gonville & Caius May Ball, the college at which Bilimoria’s son is a student.

It has also been revealed that several Cambridge alumni have links to the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, as well as to other companies implicated in the 'Panama Papers' leak.

Michael Mates is an ex-Choral Scholar at King’s College, and a former Tory MP for East Hampshire. He is a shareholder in a company called Haylandale, which leased land in Barbuda.

Mates claimed his role in the company was “small and uninfluential”, that the company “has never had any real value” and that he was “invited to become chairman by a friend”.

Lord Howard Flight, an alumnus of Magdalene College, is a former deputy chair of the Conservative Party and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2002 to 2004. His asset management firm, Guinness Flight, included a company in Guernsey that used Mossack Fonseca to manage investments.

Speaking to The Guardian, one of the main publications who worked on the so-called ‘Panama Papers’, Lord Flight said: “Guinness Flight Trustees was not involved in advising either individuals or companies on reducing their UK tax liabilities and, to the best of my belief, had no involvement in harbouring the proceeds of crime, facilitating tax evasion, sanctions evasion, money laundering or bribery and corruption.”

“Disciplines were in place to check against such involvements”, he added.

A student at the Judge Business School, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented: "It makes sense. Only wealthy people need offshore accounts and it's not surprising that some Cambridge alumni are wealthy and use offshore accounts. If anything, it's surprising that so few have come to light thus far."

He added: "It seems fallacious to assume that Cambridge alumni would automatically be of greater moral standing than anyone else."