As early as 2010, the UK’s Revenue and Customs Department received a list of UK citizens who had accounts in the Swiss arm of HSBC, the banking giant now at the centre of a major banking scandal. The list included the name of Lord Swraj Paul, the India-born steel magnate who heads the Caparo Group. During the Prime Minister’s Question Hour soon after the scandal broke, in response to the allegations from Labour Leader Ed Miliband that the Conservative Party depended on a set of “dodgy donors” who had accounts at HSBC’s Geneva branch, Cameron hit back by naming Lord Paul — implying that the senior peer falls into the category of “dodgy donors.” Lord Paul issued a statement saying that although he had been a Labour Party donor between 1993 and 2009, he was fully compliant with the UK’s tax laws. The Hindu and BusinessLine interviewed Lord Paul at the Caparo House on Cameron’s allegations, the banking scam, and British politics in the lead up to the general elections in May.
What was your reaction to the Parliamentary debate?
I have taken a lot of rubbish — first the expenses, and now this. What is illegal or wrong about a British taxpayer holding a Swiss bank account? They are consistently encouraging British banks to go and open branches there. And they now imply that our people shouldn’t open the accounts. This is where the press and the politicians have really not understood that the issue is not where you have the account, but whether you have done something wrong.
If I have done something illegal, let it be investigated, like any good government should do.
If they [HMRC] had the list in 2010, did they investigate everybody whose name was in the list? If not, why not? They have investigated some people, it would appear. What were the criteria? Was it political, or was it that they just thought that this man is no good and this man is our favourite?
So you think the HMRC was quite selective about whom they investigated?
My question would be did they investigate everybody or were they selective? Was there any political pressure? Secondly, there were plenty of names of donors on the list. Why did David Cameron bring in Gordon Brown and then imply that I paid for his election campaign? He has been very anti-Gordon Brown right through.
What is your response to Ed Miliband’s comment in Parliament that the donation given to the Labour Party by you was “not on my watch”.
That statement of his was very wrong. I have paid money to the Labour Party, and not to Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. The amount was paid between 1993 and 2009, a total amount of £500,000. It was paid by Caparo Group, a British taxpayers’ company, and it is noted in the balance sheet. What is wrong?
If Cameron continues with the allegations of wrong doing on your part, will you consider taking legal action?
By doing that, you are only making lawyers rich. I have said my part; I hope he understands that. Otherwise, I might have more to say. If he can use Parliamentary privilege, I can use Parliamentary privilege too. But I hope he understands that it doesn’t do him any good. A Prime Minister should not make statements that are unchecked and wrong. It is one thing to do it when you are leader of the Opposition; it is very different when the Prime Minister of a respectable country and a country I love should make a statement bringing people’s names [into disrepute] without thinking.
Will you no longer be a donor for Labour Party after this?
I have not been a donor for the Labour Party in order for them to do something for me. I had been a Labour Party member since 1954 before the present leadership was even born. So I like the party, I want them to do a good job.
From the day I left the Labour party in 2010, I have been an independent member [peer]. I think David Cameron knew no other name than mine. My thinking is still very much associated with Labour.
So coming to the allegations…
Having an account [in a Swiss bank] is not illegal, [but] if you have evaded tax it is. Politicians should study what they say. You owe it to the country not to mislead by sound bytes. All I want an answer to is this: have you investigated everybody? If not, why not? Nobody’s reputation should get hurt because of a lack of clarity.
I am not against scrutiny but I am against the fact that they are selective in the way they use it to hurt people who are in Opposition and that is disgraceful.