Big Question for Super Rich ... Pay Taxes or Give Your Fortune Away? Multi-Millionaire Tax Exile Albert Gubay Is Being Knighted by the Catholic Church for Promising to Hand over His Fortune to a Charitable Trust When He Dies. Darren Devine Examines Whether It Would Be Better for Society If the Country's Wealthiest Figures Simply Paid Taxes Rather Than Focusing on Philanthropy

Article excerpt

Byline: Darren Devine

IN 1915, a Colorado steel miner appeared before a federal commission on industrial relations looking into concerns that private charitable foundations posed a threat to the future of the United States.

Critics argued the foundations set up by millionaire industrialists like John Davidson Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to earn money for good causes concentrated vast wealth in the hands of a few trustees and were undemocratic.

The miner complained that his employer, the oil magnate Rockefeller, wanted to give $250,000 to a retreat for migratory birds through his foundation.

He objected that this was unfair while he, one of those who laboured to help Rockefeller create the wealth he enjoyed, was unable to provide a safe retreat for his wife and his children.

Then, as now, the question marks over large-scale philanthropy remain in an age when the likes of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has pledged to pass on his entire pounds 34bn fortune to charity.

And this week it emerged Welshman Albert Gubay is to be knighted by the Pope after announcing all his companies, now worth close to pounds 1bn, will pass into the hands of a trust after his death. Mr Gubay's spokesman John Nugent has said the firms should make enough money each year to hand out pounds 20m in fields such as education, sport and cancer research.

The 82-year-old, a devout Catholic who was born in Rhyl, said he made a pact with God that in the event of his becoming a millionaire he would hand over half his wealth to charity.

But as with the philanthropists of the past there are those who question the avowed aim of such apparent generosity to do as much good as possible.

Mr Gubay, who established the Kwik Save supermarket empire before selling it for pounds 14m in 1973, has lived as a tax exile in the Isle of Man for about the past 30 years.

On one occasion Mr Gubay, who later started and then sold the Total Fitness empire for pounds 80m, threatened to leave for Switzerland in a dispute over taxes, but was petitioned by locals to stay.

Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood questions whether Mr Gubay's wealth would have done more good had he remained resident on the British mainland with his money subject to the higher rates of taxation here.

The South Wales Central AM said: "I'm sure some people will be applauding Mr Gubay's generosity, but before honouring him we should ask how he has been able to amass such a large fortune.

"By becoming a tax exile on the Isle of Man, Mr Gubay has boosted his personal fortune at the expense of the state.

"The UK Government is cutting public spending on vital services like health and education while Mr Gubay's fair share of taxation has been sitting in his personal bank account, gathering interest." The UK, of course, also has its fair share of millionaires who give some of their fortunes to charity while remaining in this country.

Not least among them would be the host of TV's The Apprentice Lord Sugar, a philanthropist for charities like Jewish Care and London's Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Fellow TV business guru Duncan Bannatyne, who has vowed to leave the vast bulk of his pounds 200m fortune to charity, also remains committed to not only generating wealth in the UK, but also paying taxes here.

Best-known for his appearances on the BBC's Dragons' Den, the entrepreneur was embroiled in a row with fellow businessman and panelist on the show James Caan over his off-shore tax status.

Mr Bannatyne said it was unfair that Mr Caan's non-domicile tax status means he does not pay tax in the UK on his off-shore earnings.

In December activists protesting against tax avoidance by big businesses forced one of Britain's busiest stores - Topshop in Birmingham - to close its doors for around three hours after demonstrating against Sir Philip Green's tax bills. …