Monday, 29 April 2013

Clegg: Belgians spring tax surprise on Mrs Clegg

Belgians spring tax surprise on Mrs Clegg

Jason Lewis and Bojan Pancevski Published: Sunday Times 28 April 2013
Nick Clegg and his wife, Miriam Gonzalez Nick Clegg and his wife, Miriam Gonzalez (James Glossop)
BELGIAN bureaucrats have left Nick Clegg and his wife baffled over claims that she failed to pay tax for domestic staff the couple employed at their former home in Brussels.
Miriam Gonzalez, the Spanish-born wife of the deputy prime minister, was ordered in absentia to pay €1,000 — £840 at today’s exchange rate — after being taken to court over unpaid social security contributions for “up to four domestic staff”. The Labour Court in Brussels issued two judgments against her, one in December 2006 and another in May 2007.
However, the couple — who had lived in the city while he was an MEP and she worked for the European Commission — had moved to London in 2005.
The Liberal Democrats last night blamed “an administrative error” by the Belgian authorities and said that Gonzalez, an international lawyer, was attempting to establish “the full facts”.
“Miriam has attempted to establish why she was never notified about either the tribunal proceedings or the judgments, which both happened long after she had left Belgium to live in the UK,” said her spokesman.
A lawyer who represented the tax authorities in one of the hearings against Gonzalez said she deals with hundreds of similar cases each year. “Disputes like this are common in Belgium,” she said.
Gonzalez’s spokesman said that the National Social Security Office, the Belgian equivalent of the Department for Work and Pensions, had confirmed in writing to her last week that she did not owe it any money. All the same, she would repay anything she owed “if that were ever to be the case”.
“The first time that either Miriam or Nick were aware of these judgments was when they were brought to their attention by The Sunday Times,” the spokesman added.
“Miriam was never notified of the proceedings or the judgments and was therefore not represented and the facts were never challenged or checked. The validity of the judgments must be considered in that regard.”
Court documents reveal that the authorities in Belgium brought two cases against Gonzalez for defaulting on taxes.
The writs alleged failure to make payments for staff employed at the couple’s 19th-century townhouse in the heart of one of Brussels’s most prestigious districts.
Gonzalez was working as a senior adviser to the EU commissioners Chris Patten — the former Conservative cabinet minister and now BBC chairman — and Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria.
According to documents seen by The Sunday Times, she registered her household as “employers of domestic personnel” with the Belgian equivalent of Companies House between 2003 and 2005. She was found in default of tax for her employees in 2006 and 2007 after she had left Brussels.
Belgium judgment: Miriam Clegg's name was removed from the copy due to privacy laws