Our QC is fabulously bright – a brilliant legal mind whose arguments to the judge have been erudite and effective. Intelligence, learning and sheer hard work are all prerequisites for a job at the bar, but I fear that these qualities are such a far cry from the ordinary world that the entire process has flown over the jurors heads. I prayed for someone to stand up and tell it how it is in plain English, but no-one did, because that is not the way the system works, and not our amazing lawyer who has sweated blood for us and whose whole family wept when we lost this, not our dedicated QC and not even the judge really question it. It is a glitch of a system that they are intrinsically part of, a system that has worked for hundreds of years.
I know that I can’t change it either. I also know that there are scores of countries in the world where if you piss the government off this much you don’t live to tell the tale. I have counted my blessings many times on this front, but what has happened here is a travesty, and as we haven’t yet been buried in an unmarked grave, I am telling this tale, for whatever it is worth.
Apparently, In 2005 HMRC gathered together the top accountants working in film. They were told that what had previously been considered tax avoidance was now going to be considered tax evasion, and thus illegal. No legislative change had occurred, but a whole new approach was to be adopted. It is in this spirit that this case has been prosecuted. HMRC spent millions of taxpayers money flying around the world, extorting statements from all the producers who had received development money. (This backfired on them later when the prosecutor couldn’t get any of the producers to stand by their statements in court and he was put on notice by the judge for bullying his own witnesses), but still, some of these statements were instrumental in bringing this case to court in the first place.
Luillo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican producer of considerable standing in his country explained what had happened when HMRC interviewed him: They spent several days questioning him about all of his connections to IFC and Rob’s company Salt and afterwards sent a statement to him supposedly based on the information he had given them. After reading it through he declined to sign it, as they had omitted everything from the document that made any sense of the true nature of their business relationship, but he helpfully sent them an amended signed statement of his own . They didn’t seem to want this statement however and Luillo was not called as a witness for the prosecution.
This same scenario was repeated over and over with a number of different producers. How many more might have felt more intimidated by the heavy hand of the Revenue on their shoulders and signed a similarly incriminating document? The fact that not one producer would give any incriminating information was key in the original dismissal of the case, and is a damning inditement of the way the “investigation” was carried out. It is also a testament to the solidarity of the industry and something for which I am deeply grateful. None of this mattered of course and four men are still going to jail. HMRC must be delighted with the result.
Am I making this sound personal? I’m sure it isn’t really…The prosecutor, a small aggressive Welshman with an exceptionally dishevelled wig has made it sound personal to the jury – that is his job. He is strangely reminiscent of a terrier, and I imagine him snapping at the ankles of his quarry in the witness box. Apparently in legal circles it is the thing to have a raggedy wig: In the same way that buying your own furniture is considered new money, a pristine wig cannot boast of a family tradition at the bar.
From my position in the visitors gallery I was seated behind him and watched as he browsed fine wine and Spanish holidays on his laptop whilst Rob’s QC eloquently pleaded our case. His indifference puzzled me. It was so other to my own desperate hopes. It strikes me now that what has happened to us, and what is to come is not personal: Tax breaks for film were an initiative from one arm of the government and keeping the public purse strings as tightly drawn as possible is the priority of another.
In any case, who really cares about the fate of apparently comfortable, privileged people of means? The prosecution went out their way to draw attention to the earnings of the defendants. The sums of money being banded about in this case are substantial, however HMRC make no mention in their press release that the monnies were effectively taken over a long period of time and that although money was received as income (and taxed!) a good chunk of it went into paying salaries, office costs and development expenses related to the various film businesses that were part of the fabric of the film partnerships. Money however was not the issue in this case in legal terms at least… The earnings of accused were not part of the indictment, and financial success is not yet legally a crime, but in this case legal issues and evidence were eclipsed by how things were made to appear. “Smoke and mirrors” the prosecution screamed. “No smoke without fire”. “Smoke them!”. And the jury did.