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John Cleese’s escape to Nevis, with caveats

John Cleese blames the ‘lying and triviality’ of British newspapers as he announces his move to St Kitts and Nevis – but what about his tax bill, asks Arun Kakar

This is not a joke: John Cleese is moving abroad. The actor announced to Emily Maitlis on Newsnight this week that he would be leaving the UK for the Caribbean – specifically St Kitts and Nevis – because he was ‘disappointed with so much about [the UK] at the moment’. Citing the failed bid for proportional representation, for which he campaigned, the comedian said his ‘particular beef’ was with the British press.

Cleese - who threatened to leave the country in March after MPs rejected the second part of the Leveson inquiry into press standards - said that he was ‘disappointed with the way the country is run’ and that he wanted to ‘give up and try something else’.

So of all the places in the world, why pick St Kitts and Nevis, which is some 500 miles from the nearest continent (Venezuela is the spot) and the eighth smallest state by landmass in the world (at 261 square kilometres it’s two-thirds the size of the Isle of Wight)?

Cleese praised the Caribbean state’s ‘gorgeous weather’, and will look to arrive during its hot, humid and rainy season that lasts until about mid-November. ‘The Nevis newspaper is very good,’ said Cleese. ‘It’s one of the nicest islands I’ve ever been on. The relationship between the races is absolutely superb, the people there are really kind.’

What didn’t come up in the interview was any assessment of the Commonwealth country’s taxation environment. Citizenship planner Henley and Partners rates St Kitts – population 11,000 – as having a ‘well regarded’ passport with an ‘excellent reputation’.  It also enjoys visa-free travel to more than 100 countries including the EU Schengen area and the UK, which depending on the final Brexit deal, may make it more useful than the current UK passport.

For citizens of St Kitts and Nevis, there’s also the small matter of zero income or wealth tax, something that Mr Cleese and his estimated £12.8 million net worth will sensibly have one eye on. Cleese’s latest divorce from radio host Alyce Faye in 2009 cost him £12 million and a further £600,000-a-year until 2016.

Whilst Cleese might have avoided the British press by crossing the Channel to France, its high tax rates are what make a jurisdiction like St.Kitts and Nevis so attractive by comparison, as James Quarmby, partner at law firm Stephenson Harwood tells Spear’s.

'The high rates of French income tax and inheritance taxes are a big turn-off – particularly for someone who is probably living on passive investment income and who is 78 years old,’ says Quarmby. ‘Of course, there is nothing wrong whatsoever in moving your tax residency in order to enjoy a more beneficial tax regime.

‘For instance, one of the reasons there are so many retired Brits in Cyprus is that they levy only as 5 per cent tax on pensions income.’

The island’s government has an attractive citizenship-by-investment program that grants citizenship to foreigners who make a ‘substantial contribution to the development of the country’, through donation or property investment. Investments include the government’s new sustainable growth fund launched in April and a charity donation to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.

The island was taken off the EU’s ‘blacklist’ of tax havens and moved onto a ‘grey list’ of jurisdictions in May, meaning that it is working to increase its tax transparency standards to fall in line with EU requirements. The ‘blacklist’ was set up last December by the EU after disclosures of tax avoidance prompted by the Panama Papers leak. Jurisdictions face reputational damage and potentially stricter controls on financial transactions in the EU.

Cleese might well be depressed about ‘the standard of debate’ about Brexit and the ‘lying and triviality’ of British newspapers; but if he is sensible from a tax perspective then it is likely that he will enjoy more than just the weather when he moves to the Lesser Antilles later this year.

Arun Kakar writes for Spear’s

 

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