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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT

Business: The Company File

Murdoch 'pays no UK tax'

Rupert Murdoch in The Simpsons: but the taxman is not amused

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch may run one of the most profitable businesses in the UK, but it appears that he has somehow managed to avoid running up a tax bill over the past 11 years.

According to The Economist, Mr Murdoch has saved at least £350m in tax - enough to pay for seven new hospitals, 50 secondary schools or 300 primary schools.

How he has done it remains a mystery - and News Corporation is certainly loath to give away any financial secrets.

But it appears that Mr Murdoch's tax accountants have surpassed themselves - making full use of tax loopholes to protect profits in offshore havens.

Clever fund manager

[ image: Mr Mudoch is believed to have used loopholes to avoid tax]
Mr Mudoch is believed to have used loopholes to avoid tax
Mr Murdoch also has the luxury of shifting funds from country to country across his sprawling media empire to foil the taxman.

It is not just the Inland Revenue that has been left empty-handed by News Corporation's clever financial engineering.

Mr Murdoch "hands very little of his profits to governments" according to The Economist.

Overall, News Corporation paid just £146m ($238m) in corporate taxes on profits of more than £2bn.

In other words he is paying tax at a paltry rate of just 6%. That compares with normal company tax rates of 30% and upwards.

The financial secrecy that has characterised Mr Murdoch's empire could turn out to be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand he has managed to hold on to more money. But News Corporation's complex structure, which includes 60 incorporated tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, has confused analysts and investors alike.

No comment

In the same opaqueness that characterises its tax affairs, News Corporation said it had no further comment to make on the issue.

The company told The Economist: "News Corporation and its subsidiaries, including News International, prepares and files tax returns in every jurisdiction in which they do business.

"The company's tax returns and payments are reviewed on a regular basis by relevant tax authorities."

Whether Mr Murdoch can continue to get away with such low payments is a taxing question. Governments may seek to crack down on loopholes and special havens.

One thing is for sure - the company's accountants and lawyers deserve a bonus.

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