"Britain's tax authorities have given Goldman Sachs an unusual and generous Christmas present, leaked documents reveal. In a secret London meeting last December with the head of Revenue, the wealthy Wall Street banking firm was forgiven £10m interest on a failed tax avoidance scheme.
The £10m Christmas gift for Goldman was the culmination of a prolonged attempt by the US firm to avoid paying national insurance on huge bonuses for its bankers working in London.
The sum was pocket change to Goldman, whose employees received $15.3bn (£9.5bn) in pay and bonuses last year. Its Wall Street head, Lloyd Blankfein, received $68m in 2008 and at the height of Britain's banking crisis 100 London partners set their bonuses at £1m each. This level was considered a mark of restraint.
In the 1990s, Goldman set up a company offshore in the British Virgin Islands. This entity, called Goldman Sachs Services Ltd, supposedly employed all of Goldman's London bankers, who were then "seconded" to work there.
It took the Revenue until 2005 to demonstrate in court that these EBTs were merely illegitimate tax avoidance devices. The 21 other firms surrendered, and handed over what they owed.
But Goldman Sachs refused to pay its £30.81m bill. Instead the city firm Freshfields and the tax QC David Goldberg fought tooth and nail on Goldman's behalf through the courts. By 2010, according to a public judgment, the unpaid bill with accumulated interest had mounted to £40m.
In April 2010, the bankers lost a key point: a judge threw out the claim that their true employer was in the British Virgin Islands. In July, HMRC's own QC, Malcolm Gammie, gave "broadly positive" advice that the government was in a strong position to get all of its money.
But on 30 November, a high-level HMRC committee handling the most aggressive banks heard troubling news. Their top expert, Hartnett, had met Goldman's tax director, Mike Housden, and as a result "a late submission had come in about a deal on which Dave Hartnett had 'shaken hands' with Goldman Sachs". The government was not going to get its full £40m, but only £30m."