The Guardian, April 2006
Written with Rob Evans
Hans Rausing, the Swedish billionaire whose tax arrangements were revealed by the Guardian, is among scores of foreign citizens awarded official honours in the last year. Rausing, former head of Tetra Pak, who has lived in England since 1982, was awarded an honorary knighthood in January.
Four years ago, the Guardian revealed that, although he and his immediate family had an income of about £4m a week, he was using so many tax loopholes that in at least one year, he and his UK businesses received more from the Treasury than they handed over.
Mr Rausing is one of 100 non-UK citizens honoured since last May who are named in a list released by the Foreign Office after a parliamentary question from the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker. Unlike honours to UK citizens, those for foreigners are not generally announced. The foreign secretary nominates those “who have made an important contribution to British interests”.
Jack Straw defended the award to Mr Rausing, describing him as “one of the most significant private philanthropists in the UK”. He added: “His generosity and the support he has given to a wide range of charities and educational establishments have benefited numerous people, from all walks of life throughout the UK.”
But Mr Baker said: “I am sure some of these people have done things which deserve to be honoured, but I am appalled that someone like Rausing who spends his life avoiding tax should be given one of the highest honours. Perhaps we should all avoid tax and be suitably rewarded. It sends an entirely wrong message to hard-working families.”
A spokesman for Mr Rausing said: “His philanthropic record speaks for itself. He pays all the tax he is supposed to under British law.” He has given £146m over the last 12 years to charities.
Honoured with a KCMG is Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell between 2001 and 2005 and a leading player in rallying diplomatic support for the Iraq invasion. Mr Armitage’s role in the Iran-contra arms smuggling scandal was controversial enough to prevent him becoming army secretary in 1989. He worked alongside Oliver North to trade arms to Iran illegally and siphon profits to the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
In all, nine Americans received honours for helping to strengthen relations between the US and Britain, notably during the Iraq war. Captain John Peterson, chief of staff to the commander of the US navy in the Middle East, was awarded a CBE for – according to the Pentagon – leading British and American forces “in the campaign to secure Iraqi oil assets” at the start of the 2003 invasion. An honorary knighthood goes to Arnold Fisher, chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which has given financial support to the widows and children of US and UK service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
General Michael Moseley, chief of staff to the US Air Force, has also been made into an honorary “sir”, as has Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman, who served 38 years in the US navy, ending up as the director of the organisation responsible for running US nuclear submarines and ships.
Twelve overseas businessmen and women have received awards. Francis Yeoh, the head of Malaysian power company YTL, received a CBE. In 2002, British police investigated an allegation that YTL paid a £ 1m “bribe” to Wessex Water boss Colin Skellett. YTL denied the allegation and no charges were brought.
Yung-Fa Chang, a Taiwanese shipping magnate, was awarded a CBE for “services to shipping and British economic interests”. His company, Evergreen Marine, has its European headquarters in Britain.
Celebrities who received CBEs included the four members of the Irish pop band the Corrs, Swedish footballer Henrik Larsson and German golfer Bernhard Langer.