ISLE of Wight MP Andrew Turner wants to know if Wightlink’s Australian parent company is in the same tax avoidance category as Amazon, Starbucks and Google, which were recently shamed by a parliamentary committee.
The finances of Wightlink and parent company Macquarie Bank came under scrutiny at a public meeting meeting last week, organised by unions and attended by Mr Turner.
It was told ferry company bosses were forced to take action to save money because the Australian bank had paid too much for Wightlink and was paying exorbitantly high loan costs through internal borrowing.
Chartered accountant Peter Bonnell, of Yarmouth, told the meeting: "The holding company just lost £40 million after internal borrowing on a loan of £273 million on which it is paying 17 per cent interest."
He questioned how Wightlink could justify to the Inland Revenue paying such high interest rates to another Macquarie company "presumably based somewhere in the Bahamas."
Mr Turner, who promised to do all he could to protect the Island’s lifeline service, revealed that secretary of state for business Vince Cable had refused a meeting with him on the issue.
After the meeting he called on Macquarie to come clean on its complex funding arrangements which he estimated would enable it to claim £8 million in tax refunds.
"I have followed up the points Mr Bonnell raised and looked into the issue further. Wightlink’s most recent accounts were filed in December and show a profit of £8.6 million.
"However, the company that owns them, MEIF Shipping made a loss of over £44 million because they are paying another Macquarie company interest at an unbelievable rate of 17 per cent which amounts to more than £40 million a year in interest.
"It is not clear from these accounts who is the ultimate beneficiary of the £40 million. It is entirely possible it is being paid to a foreign based company in order to minimise liability for tax.
"To be clear, I am not suggesting this is illegal; but it is certainly not clear which companies are involved in this financial chain or where they pay tax.
"Amazon, Starbucks, Google and other multi-national giants have been heavily criticised for such activities and I would like to know whether Macquarie Group are also involved in such complex tax avoidance strategies."