The tarnished halo of “Saint Bob” Geldof

Francis Carr Begbie

In 2013 Bob Geldof was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for his outstanding contribution to international social justice and peace.

Strangely there was no mention of his services as a corporate mouthpiece for the financial services industry, which is an odd omission.

For at the time Geldof was in the throes of launching his own hedge fund and he was supporting what the Wall Street Journal  called, a “huge private equity push into Africa,” Geldof’s 8 Miles Fund boasts a distinguished team of advisors,  concentrates on African investments, and has attracted the support of J P Morgan.  Typically, he deflects awkward questions with a joke, calling himself a “private equity whore”.

But Geldof’s partner in this venture could hardly be more respectable.  Merchant banker Mark Florman is a former Conservative Party fund raiser, BBC trustee and, when not working on philanthropic ventures,  is busy defending the City of London from regulation via his other role as head of the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.

With Geldof the gap between image and reality grows larger all the time. Last September Geldof claimed he would house four refugee families and emoted in his usual way,

I can’t stand what is happening. I cannot stand what it does to us. … We must have the politics and the humanity to deal with it. It makes me sick and a concert won’t do it.”

It is a monstrous betrayal of who we are and what we wish to be; we are in a moment that will be discussed and impacted upon in 300 years time.

Yet many months later there is still no sign of any refugees at any of his homes, a situation which has led to widespread comment.

Presumably he expects these refugees to be paid for by the taxes of those who cannot afford elaborate offshore tax avoidance companies in the way that he does. Geldof is notoriously touchy on this subject and shuts down television inquiries by launching into the usual foul-mouthed spate of expletives. When asked about his tax arrangements, he says “My time, is that not a tax?.” A curious argument — not recommended for anyone dealing with the tax authorities.

As an Irish national, he is entitled to use that favorite UK tax avoidance loophole: the status of “non-domicile” taxpayer. This enables individuals with nominal overseas connections to legitimately avoid paying large sums of tax on overseas earnings. He also exploits off-shore tax avoidance companies in the British Virgin Islands to ensure that his two properties, a mansion apartment in London and a rambling twelfth-century priory in Faversham, Kent, are both exempt from property and inheritance taxes.

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