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Cameron accused of hypocrisy over gains from offshore trust

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire after admitting he benefited from an offshore trust set up by his father. Campaigners are even urging Cameron, who has been critical of tax avoidance, to resign.

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Cameron in hot water over Panama Papers

Opposition politicians and Twitter users were quick to point out on Friday that British Prime Minister David Cameron had been critical of tax avoidance schemes in the past.

After days of questions about his affairs, Cameron admitted he had held a small stake in an offshore fund - Blairmore Investment Trust - set up by his father. The British premier said he had sold the shares before he became prime minister in 2010, and said he had paid all UK taxes that were due on the profit made.

"After days of repeatedly avoiding the issue, this is an extraordinary admission from the Prime Minister," Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said in a statement.

Downing Street officials had previously issued four statements on the affair after Sunday's publication of the leaked Panama Papers. Initially it was claimed that any family investment in the fund was a private matter. Subsequent statements initially said the prime minister did not presently own shares in the trust, and then ruled out future gains, without broaching the issue of past earnings.

"David Cameron, who described the use of complex tax avoidance schemes as 'morally wrong,' has been forced to admit that he held shares in a fund now linked to tax avoidance," Watson said.

The papers showed how Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca had helped firms and wealthy individuals set up offshore companies. Cameron's late father, Ian, had been among tens of thousands of people named in the leaked documents.

No laughing matter

Agreeing with the Labour sentiment, one tweeter pointed out that the prime minister had denounced UK comedian Jimmy Carr when he became embroiled in a 2012 tax scandal involving an offshore shell company.

However, one Labour Party member expressed concern that the personal damage the affair might cause to Cameron might also reflect negatively on his campaign for Britain to remain part of the EU.

US intelligence operative-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden drew the attention of Twitter users to protests calling for Cameron to resign, planned for Saturday.

Cameron's 'worst week'

The right-wing Daily Telegraph newspaper judged that it had been a disastrous few days for David Cameron, with Downing Street appearing to change its story as the week went on. It had initially appeared that the Panama Papers did not implicate the British premier, the paper said.

"However, following four days of disastrous crisis handling, Mr Cameron was last night reeling from his most damaging week as Prime Minister.

"His dramatic mea culpa that he previously held offshore investments with Panama-based Blairmore Holdings Limited was the fifth time Downing Street had issued a different response to the astonishing furore."

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper's John Harris wrote in an opinion article that the revelations betrayed the true nature of a Conservative Party that was not really committed to tackling tax avoidance.

"Every so often, the presentational masks acquired down the years by British conservatism slip. If only for a moment, the supposed convictions Tory politicians bang on about are reduced to mere window dressing, and what cynical old lefties tend to talk about as the venal pursuit of class interests suddenly looks like a matter of unanswerable fact."

'A far more serious allegation'

Rather than concentrating on Cameron's admission, The lndependent's online news site drew attention to an effort by the prime minister to water down an EU law to tackle money laundering. The suspicion, said columnist Oliver Wright, was that - by writing to President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy to ask for individuals' offshore trusts to have special protections - he was seeking to protect wealthy party donors.

"It is very hard to see how David Cameron's father using an offshore fund in the 1980s to invest his clients' money should be a political scandal for his son today," said Wright. "But, by stark contrast, the revelation this morning that Mr Cameron himself tried to weaken a EU drive to reveal the true beneficiaries of trusts is a far more serious allegation."

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