THE ASHCROFT AFFAIR: Treasurer makes another pounds 70m - but could still escape UK taxes

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MICHAEL ASHCROFT is unlikely to pay tax in Britain even after he moves his main home here, experts said last night.

In an attempt to stop criticisms of his "foreign" donations to the Tory party, Mr Ashcroft will move into a mansion on Great Peter Street, Westminster, which he and his wife, Suzie, bought recently.

Although the tycoon's spokesman said last night that he intended to make a commitment to Britain and pay any tax arising from that, he could easily continue with his current arrangements.

There was further good news for the businessman yesterday. Shares in Carlisle Group, a British company that Mr Ashcroft invested in recently, rose rapidly from pounds 6.90 each to pounds 8.70 yesterday after the news of Mr Ashcroft's settlement with The Times - increasing the value of his personal holdings by pounds 70m.

The investment was described in the financial press several months ago as marking Mr Ashcroft's return to the City of London after more than a decade of absence.

Despite Mr Ashcroft's stated intention to return to Britain, Anne Redston, a chartered tax adviser with Ernst and Young, said that if he continues to keep a family home in Florida he could legitimately claim to be domiciled there. He would then pay tax on his earnings in the US.

"I'm not sure he will pay as much as people think," Ms Redston said. "I can't believe he is going to expose all his overseas assets to UK tax. That would be a very generous thing to do."

Ms Redston said Mr Ashcroft would be able to make donations to the Conservative Party in the UK without being liable for tax if he paid them from his capital assets rather than from his personal income.

Many businessmen were advised to separate their affairs for such purposes - it was a relatively simple matter, she said. Alternatively, if money were donated to a foreign bank account belonging to the Tories, it would not be liable for British tax.

The Tory party treasurer has promised to reorganise his affairs after prolonged political pressure over his joint role as the main funder both of the Conservatives and of the governing party in Belize.

In fact it was unlikely that moving would make a great practical difference to him, his spokesman said last night. Much of his business empire would remain offshore and he would keep his Belize passport.

Mr Ashcroft is likely to give up his post as Belize's ambassador to the United Nations, but when asked whether he would sell his home in Boca Raton, Florida, his spokesman replied: "Why should he do that? His business empire is multinational and it doesn't really matter where he lives. I don't suppose it will actually have a material bearing on where his assets and investments are."

In recent years Mr Ashcroft's assets have been held largely in Belize, where he owns the main bank and has interests in the main electricity company. His BHI Corporation also had interests in cleaning and maintenance companies in the United States.

He moved his former company, ADT, offshore in the mid-1980s, saying that he had been the victim of a snobbish whispering campaign. Mr Ashcroft's spokesman said yesterday that he had every intention of paying British tax, though he had not yet worked out the details.

"The point of this is to demonstrate that he has made a commitment to this country and he is coming back here," the spokesman said. "His statement says he is going to organise his affairs to come back and live in Britain. I would be surprised if he hasn't begun thinking about it, but the detailed work is yet to be done."

Mr Ashcroft still owns a house in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where he recently registered as an overseas voter.