Dominic Chappell, the former owner of BHS who bought the business from Sir Phillip Green for £1 in 2015, has appeared before a London court and stands accused of avoiding around £500,000 in tax and using two yachts as means to launder the ill-gotten funds. Chappell, who The Guardian refers to as a ‘serial bankrupt’, faces three counts of cheating the public revenue and two of money laundering.
While the yachts in question, Maverick 5 and Maverick 6, are not large enough to meet SuperyachtNews’ 30m-plus criteria to qualify as superyachts, the case highlights some of the issues facing the public perception of the superyacht industry. While the number of taxation and money laundering cases against the superyacht market are few and far between, the industry, rightly or wrongly, is still very much associated with misappropriated funds or tax evasion.
That these types of cases are ending up in the courts should be seen, both within the industry and publicly, as a positive step. Part of the ‘perception’ issue, is that the general public believes ultra-wealthy individuals act with impunity, when it comes to the management of their assets. Court proceedings such as this highlight that, at least within the yachting community, this is not true.
“These allegations, if proven, should help to dispel the cliché that buying a yacht is an untraceable way of hiding ill-gotten gains,” comments Adam Ramlugon, director and head of private wealth at Bargate Murray. “The regulated professionals that operate in the yacht and luxury asset world, like ourselves, are held to precisely the same standards as those in any other market sector. Anyone thinking of using a yacht deal as part of a ‘layering’ exercise in an effort to launder funds really should think twice.”
As it becomes increasingly difficult to use superyachts as a means of avoiding certain tax liabilities and laundering money, the market may become more appealing to the many wealthy individuals that are currently too afraid to engage with the superyacht market, whether through charter or ownership, because they fear being guilty by association. Rather than being concerned over how public trials involving yachts negatively affect the market’s perception, we should be pleased that these trials will lead to the emergence of a yachting sector that wealthy individuals will no longer be afraid to enjoy.