- Ex-cricketer Sir Ian Botham was a high-profile supporter of Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign. In April 2016, he wrote an article for The Sunday Times proclaiming his patriotism as he called for the UK to get out of the EU. The fact of his intervention was the front-page splash on the newspaper. Yet at the same time he was promoting a product made by a multinational company that was in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The former England cricket captain continues to endorse the product after the EU referendum, while latest accounts filed at Companies House show that the company still has a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC. In a recent article for the Daily Mirror, Sir Ian called on the government to trigger Article 50 immediately, starting the formal two-year process for Brexit. Nevertheless some might argue that it’s patriotic for citizens and businesses to pay their taxes.
- On 17 April 2016, Sir Ian’s rallying cry in the EU referendum campaign was the main story on the front page of The Sunday Times (“Botham swings bat for Brexit”). Inside he wrote an article entitled “As a patriot I’m going in to bat for my beliefs.” At the start of June 2016, meanwhile, I noticed national press ads featuring the “England cricket legend and charity walker.” The prominent Leave campaigner was promoting a medical device, the REVITIVE Circulation Booster. He also appears on the REVITIVE homepage (screen shot in Figure 1) and elsewhere on the website. REVITIVE is produced by Actegy Ltd (registered company number: 04819502), a family-owned company, started in 2003. Actegy operates across the world, but its UK office in Bracknell, Berkshire is the global headquarters. Sir Ian has been a REVITIVE “ambassador” in the UK since September 2013, according to the news page on the Actegy website (screen shot in Figure 2). The news page has since disappeared in the recent redesign of the company website.
- As I said, I noticed the national press ads a few weeks before the EU referendum. And I was straightaway concerned about Actegy when I checked its filings at Companies House. At early June 2016 its accounts were overdue: the then next accounts made up to 30 June 2015 were due by 31 March 2016. What’s worse, on 7 June 2016, the company received a “first Gazette notice” for compulsory strike-off: it‘d be struck off after two months if the registrar saw no reason to do otherwise. This wasn’t the first time Actegy was in this situation either: it had received such notices on 1 July 2014 and 24 July 2012, filings show.
- So at early June 2016 the accounts were overdue and compulsory strike-off was threatened – again. Not signs of a well-run company. But the then latest accounts, made up to 30 June 2014, revealed another reason for concern: Actegy was in a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC. HMRC had issued a determination of unpaid tax of £1.84m, which the company was appealing against. Twice before the EU referendum, which took place on 23 June 2016, I asked via the contact us form on the REVITIVE website whether Actegy still had a tax dispute with HMRC. I didn’t receive a reply.
- On 28 July 2016, the company finally filed its overdue accounts made up to 30 June 2015. These show that Actegy continued to have a multi-million-pound tax dispute with HMRC, which was why the accounts are “qualified.” Qualified accounts are accounts questioned by an independent assessor. “HM Revenue & Customs have issued regulation 80 tax determinations in the sum of £6 928 893 and NI [National Insurance] determinations for £2 279 100, in respect of payments by the company to a remuneration trust scheme. The company have appealed against these determinations which total £9 207 993,” stated the independent auditors in their report.
- Further, on 27 September 2016, Actegy received yet another “first Gazette notice” for compulsory strike-off. On 22 October 2016, I asked director Joshua Penny in an email whether the company‘s situation with HMRC had changed since the latest accounts. (I‘d found his email address in the WHOIS information for the domain revitive.com. There are no email addresses on the Actegy website.) At date of publication I haven’t received a response.
- Sir Ian continues to promote REVITIVE in national press ads following the EU referendum – and is still campaigning on Brexit, too. On 17 November 2016, for example, he wrote an article for the Daily Mirror (“The world awaits.. We voted to leave, let’s get on with it NOW”) calling on the government to trigger Article 50 immediately, starting the formal two-year process for Brexit. “I was so proud of my country when we voted to Leave on June 23 and took back control of our laws, trade and borders,” declared the former England cricket captain. Tax evasion is illegal, while tax avoidance isn’t. There’s no suggestion that Actegy has done anything illegal. But HMRC considers that there are millions of pounds of unpaid tax and National Insurance, according to the two most recent years’ accounts. Should a patriot promote a product made by a multinational company with tax and National Insurance arrangements that HMRC deems unacceptable in this way?
- I couldn’t reach Sir Ian for comment before publication. And I tried. Online I can only seem to find agents representing him for paid speaking engagements or appearances. So for advice as to who I might email, I first asked Douglas Osborne, a trustee of Sir Ian’s charity, Beefy’s Charity Foundation (registered charity number: 1151516). Mr Osborne was the trustee I‘d corresponded with earlier in the year for my investigation of Sir Ian’s charity (see my 13 September 2016 and 21 October 2016 posts). He declined to help, saying in an email: “I am simply an independent trustee of the charity that bears his name and I do not involve myself in matters like this.” Next I tried fellow founding trustee Naynesh Desai, whose law firm is the public contact for the ex-cricketer‘s charity. Mr Desai is a solicitor and has represented Sir Ian in that role. Mr Desai and the former sportsman, too, were both founding directors, with Adam Wheatley, of high-profile company Mission Sports Management Ltd (registered company number: 04321332). Yet again Mr Desai declined to help, saying in an email: “I am not in a position to assist you.” Finally, I tried Mr Wheatley, but at date of publication haven’t received a response to the same question: Who do I email to request a comment from Sir Ian, please?