Cerberus Capital Management: Purchase of Distressed Assets

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:44 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of George Kerevan George Kerevan Scottish National Party, East Lothian 4:44 pm, 22nd February 2017

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not, because I need to develop my case a little so that the Minister knows where I am going.

Cerberus has taken advantage of the situation. It is now the biggest purchaser of distressed real estate debt in Europe. It has acquired loans from such banks as Santander, RBS, Clydesdale, Yorkshire, Lloyds and banks in Italy and Scandinavia. It purchased £13.3 billion-worth of Northern Rock mortgages in 2015. Cerberus has also—we may come to this, and I will treat it in a very gentle fashion—purchased the Northern Ireland loan book of the National Asset Management Agency, which was set up by the Irish Government to dispose of property loans inherited from failed banks. We know that that is subject to serious fraud inquiry, and I will be very careful not to step into those legal areas.

The key question is how Cerberus makes its money. It claims to make a return for its investors in the range of 17% to 20% per annum, which is a staggering amount. The key way it makes its money is through tax avoidance. That is perfectly legal, but hardly the business model that the Treasury should be encouraging.

Cerberus manages distressed debt bought in the UK and Europe through a multiplicity of shell companies based largely in the Irish Republic. Those entities usually have the word “Promontoria” in their titles. They are, in turn, subsidiaries of other Cerberus Group companies registered in the Netherlands. Essentially, the Dutch companies lend money to their Irish subsidiaries at high interest rates to effect the asset purchases. That ensures that most of the cash generated from the purchased loans, or from liquidating distressed assets, flows back to the Netherlands in the form of transfer payments. According to an investigation by The Irish Times, six key Cerberus Promontoria holding companies in Ireland collectively paid a miserly €15,500 in tax in 2015.

The tax avoidance scheme means that Cerberus can offset the risk of purchasing so-called distressed loans. With the bulk of the financial risk removed, the true surplus profit for Cerberus comes from squeezing the distressed assets. That explains why Cerberus has been prepared to outbid rival US equity firms to acquire swathes of European distressed debt. My question to the Minister, and my key point, is this: has the Treasury made any calculation of the tax loss to the UK of the purchase by Cerberus of British so-called distressed assets, mortgages and properties? In particular, what corporation tax has Cerberus paid on the loan book purchased from United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd in 2015—the Northern Rock portfolio?