Claimant personal injury firm, Asons Solicitors, entered into liquidation on 24 March 2017 and the SRA subsequently intervened on 30 March 2017.
A report has recently been filed at Companies House by the joint liquidator of Asons Solicitors Limited.[i]
This revealed that the business established ‘The Asons Solicitors Limited Employee Benefit Trust’ (EBT), in 2014, and became involved in ‘the apparent purchase of gold bullion to the value of £2m through a convoluted chain of transactions’.[ii] The joint liquidator is discussing the matter separately with HMRC, but revealed that the company may have had historical involvement in other tax avoidance arrangements.
The ‘gold bullion scheme’ works, as follows:
- A company purchases gold from a 3rd party gold supplier for its directors / employees using organisation funds.
- In return, the directors / employees agree to a theoretical obligation to pay back the purchase price of the gold (plus indexation) to the trustees of the EBT.
- However, the directors / employees immediately sell the gold for cash. The proceeds of this transaction clear the company’s debt to the 3rd party gold supplier.
- In exchange, the directors / employees are creditors to the director’s loan accounts. The director’s loan accounts record ‘money taken from ... [a] ... company that isn't either: A salary, dividend or expense repayment’.
- In this way, companies are relieved from corporation tax deductions and avoid income tax / national insurance contributions.
HMRC advised Asons, prior to entering into liquidation, that the impact of invalidating the scheme was ‘under review’ and, in November 2017, the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) Panel found that schemes involving EBTs and gold bullion were ‘abnormal and contrived’.[iii]
The joint liquidator’s report also commented on the sale of Asons, owned by Kamran Akram, to Coops Law, run by brother, Irfan Akram.
In February 2017, Asons Solicitors’ work in progress (WIP) had a value of circa £11 million and work in book debts of £3 million, for the period ending 30 November 2016.
However, Asons was sold to Coops Law for £229,534 on 23 March, 1 day before Asons was placed into liquidation. As no formal valuation of the goodwill, WIP, or book debts was undertaken prior to the associated party transaction, the joint liquidators are ‘investigating concerns raised by creditors that the transactions did not take place at arm’s length and for full value’.
Coops was shut down by the SRA in June 2017.
[ii] Martina Hogg, ‘Asons – the never-ending saga’ (21 August 2018 Legal Futures) <https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/blog/asons-the-never-ending-saga> accessed 28 August 2018.
[iii] HMRC, ‘GAAR Advisory Panel opinion of 17 November 2017: extraction of cash or equivalent through trust interests’ (11 December 2017 GOV.UK) <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gaar-advisory-panel-opinion-of-17-november-2017-extraction-of-cash-or-equivalent-through-trust-interests> accessed 28 August 2018.