An after-dinner speech by the former head of HMRC, Dave Hartnett, was interrupted by protesters who awarded the retired official with a “lifetime achievement award to corporate tax planning”.
By Matthew Sparkes 1:23PM BST 24 Sep 2012
Mr Hartnett was giving a speech at New College Oxford on Thursday when a group calling themselves WeAreTheIntruders, posing as employees of Goldman Sachs and Vodafone, interrupted to present him with a bouquet of flowers and the “Lifetime Achievement Award to Corporate Tax Planning”, otherwise known as the “Golden Handshake”.
HMRC was accused of agreeing controversial “sweetheart” deals with large businesses over outstanding tax bills while it was still run by Mr Hartnett. The issue exploded last year after a whistleblower revealed that HMRC had waived as much as £20m of interest on a £30m tax bill owed by Goldmans on bankers’ bonuses. It was also accused of letting Vodafone off as much as £8bn in taxes by accepting a £1.25bn settlement.
It was cleared by a National Audit Office report in June, although it was told to clean up its processes to remove the suspicion of unhealthy relationships with companies. At the time HMRC said: “We welcome today’s report. We have always maintained that the settlements represented good value for the UK.”
Tom Clark, one of the group that made the video, said: “We spotted that Hartnett was the after dinner speaker at this conference and couldn’t believe our eyes. We wanted to expose this sort of establishment backslapping. The video is hopefully funny, but also we hope it’s a peek into a world that most people don’t know exists.
“Our man on the inside told us that Hartnett was in his element when he stood up to speak. Everyone laughing, him enjoying himself. That didn’t last long. As you can see on the video, Hartnett went pale, hunched his back and looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.”
The video shows one of the protesters interrupt Mr Hartnett’s speech at the gala dinner of the Key Haven Publications tax planning conference to say: “We just can’t thank him enough for what he’s done. We’re just here to offer our thanks and all the best for the future.”
Moments later one of the diners interjects and demands:
“You will depart immediately, before we set the dogs on you.”
The group agree to leave but break into a round of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow as they are led out, while Mr Hartnett remains silent throughout. As they leave a diner is heard calling the protesters:
A spokesman for HMRC said that Mr Hartnett had officially left his role on July 31 and that he no longer spoke on behalf of the agency.
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