British lawmakers call for probe into Prince Charles' taxes

LONDON (AFP) - British lawmakers called on Tuesday for an investigation into the tax paid by Prince Charles's estate, arguing that it may have an "unfair advantage" over commercial competitors because it is exempt from some taxes.

The heir to the throne's estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, owns more than 53,000ha of land and has a financial portfolio.

Dating back to 1337, it was set up to provide an income for the monarch's oldest son and heir apparent, and currently has assets valued at £763 million (S$1.5 billion).

As a public "crown" body, Prince Charles' estate is exempt from capital gains and corporation tax, although he pays tax on his own income from the estate.

In a report published on Tuesday, Parliament's Public Accounts Committee scrutiny body called for the estate's finances to be made more transparent and for them to face greater scrutiny by Britain's Treasury.

The Treasury relies on the duchy to provide it with accurate information on its finances, the MPs' report said, while Prince Charles' own accounts also needed to be more transparent.

The royal estate should also amend its charter to allow a female heir to inherit the duchy, in line with recent changes to succession law, the committee said.

"There are a number of steps that could help to bring the duchy, an historic institution, more in line with the expectations of the present day," said the committee's chairman Margaret Hodge.

The estate's tax exemption "may give it an unfair advantage over its competitors", she said.

"The Treasury should examine whether the duchy's tax exemption creates an unlevel playing field," she added.

A spokesman for the royal estate said: "We do not believe the duchy has an unfair tax advantage over its competitors... The duchy is not subject to corporation tax and the duchy is not a corporation.

"The duchy is exempt from tax on capital gains. Any capital gains have to be reinvested in the business and cannot be distributed."

The Treasury said it has a "constructive" relationship with Prince Charles' estate and "challenges decisions where appropriate".