KEY Scots ports which are being considered for financial incentives and lower business tariffs are being controlled by overseas interests and with links to offshore tax havens, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

The Scottish and UK government have agreed to establish two green freeports in Scotland.

The special economic zones, offering tax breaks, are being promoted by the UK government as part of its "levelling-up" agenda.

But the plans have laid bare concerns over how many of Scotland's key ports in and around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and Dundee are controlled by foreign interests who could benefit from the freeport plan and there are calls for a rethink so that the nation has more jurisdiction.

The Scottish Government has already named nine areas being considered for green freeport status which includes the Glasgow city region.

It has emerged that Clydeport operated by the UK's second largest port group Peel Ports, which oversees 450 square miles of the River Clyde, is now mainly controlled through foreign interests.

HeraldScotland:

Clydeport is a strategic network of ports including Glasgow, Greenock, Hunterston and Ardrossan which act as the nation’s gateway to Ireland and transatlantic Americas as well as European hubs.

As of March 31, last year, the investment Peel Group vehicle led by Isle-of-Man based billionaire businessman John Whittaker has a 37.6% stake in the ports setup. Its ultimate holding company is Tokenhouse Ltd based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man.

DWS Investments which has a 37.4% stake is a Frankfurt-based asset management company, which according to Peel Ports invests through its Pan-European Infrastructure Fund, and is part of Deutsche Bank AG.

And holding 25% is an Australian industry pension fund AS INFRA PP PTY LTD linked to Australian Super the country's superannuation and pension fund, with approximately one in every ten workers as members.

Peel Ports, which manages several key regional trading hubs for the UK economy, including major facilities in Liverpool, London Medway as well as Glasgow, made an operating profit of £129.1m in 2021.

Forth Ports which owns and operates seven ports on the east coast of Scotland has said it would be bidding to create a Firth of Forth green freeport.

Dundee, the port which is owned and operated by Forth Ports is another of the nine areas for freeport status being considered by ministers.

It has further emerged the Forth Ports ownership structure is linked to the Caribbean tax haven of the Cayman Islands and Canada.

Financial papers state that Otter Ports Holdings Limited is incorporated in Grand Cayman with a registered office being in Ugland House, a five-storey block which came under the microscope of former US president Barack Obama in 2009 as part of calls for an investigation into US company tax affairs. He said: “Now, that’s either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record.”

While there are no pubicly available UK Companies House financinal records for Otter Ports Holdings Limited, it states its "principal place of business" is in Bressenden Place, London.

There is no suggestion that Forth Ports or Otter Ports Holdings Limited has unlawfully evaded any taxes owed in the UK or elsewhere.

Forth Ports says that while Otter Ports Holdings Limited's shares are registered in the Cayman Islands, it is resident in the UK for tax and pays corporation tax to HMRC. It said in the four years to the end of 2020 it paid £40.5 million to the UK Treasury and was a "significant contributor".

A spokesman said: "Any suggestion that the company is avoiding paying corporation tax in the UK is completely wrong."

Otter and Forth Ports is ultimately controlled by an affiliate of the Public Sector Investment Board in Canada - that looks after the investments of Canadian workers - but it does not produce transparent financial statements for public use.

According to financial papers seen by the Herald on Sunday, references to its financial status can only be seen through Otter.

Forth Ports, which owns and operates eight UK ports, including Grangemouth, Dundee, Leith in Edinburgh, Rosyth, Methil, Burntisland and Kirkcaldy as well as Tilbury near London, made a £62.1m profit in Covid-hit 2020.

Other areas being considered for greenport status are all Scottish Trust Ports - where profits are reinvested in the infrastructure.

They are administered by an independent statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament and governed by its own set of rules and statutes.

Kenny MacAskill, the former SNP cabinet secretary who is now deputy leader of the Alba Party said there needed to be more control over Scotland's ports.

"It's addressing that control, of our own ports and waters that’s the priority," he said. "There need to be public port authorities so that Scotland decides what’s in its own economic best interest and can promote the rights of its coastal communities. That control rests with a Canadian pension fund or an offshore investor is tragic.

"The trust ports have actually done well and even smaller ones like Dunbar where I live are for the community and well run.

HeraldScotland:

"Freeports are a sideshow and an irrelevance to the real needs of Scotland. They neither address the underlying problems of ownership or regulation nor will provide a solution. It’s another Tory spiv deal for those on the make and Green pledges by the Scottish Government cannot mask the underlying faults."

Boris Johnson believes the freeports will bring new investment and jobs to areas that are lagging behind.

They have been given the 'green' tag in Scotland to win back from ministers north of the border.

They were unveiled by the the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, as a way to spur investment after Brexit, providing areas where normal tax and customs rules do not apply.

Businesses in the freeports will enjoy full business rates relief for five years, no stamp duty and enhanced tax breaks on construction and investment, UK Budget documents revealed.

The freeports bidding process will begin in the spring and it is hoped the new sites will open in 2023.

Low tax zones could be established where goods can be imported, assembled and exported without the usual taxes and paperwork. Firms inside the freeport could pay lower rates of VAT and employment tax.

A manufacturer can set up a factory within the zone, bring in parts, turn them into finished goods and export them with little trade friction, customs checks or tariffs.

The UK government has committed funding of £52m to the project and bidders will have to pledge to reach net zero by 2045.

Under its model, freeports are centred around at least one air, rail or sea port, but can extend up to 28 miles (45km) beyond.

Ministers from both the Scottish and UK governments will have a say in the assessment and selection process.

Scotland's finance secretary Kate Forbes said they were able to reach a way of working which "enshrines the Scottish government's commitment to achieving net zero and embedding fair work practices through public investment".

She said green freeports will help create "new green jobs, deliver a just transition and support our economic transformation".

Any consortium submitting a bid “must guarantee that local communities will benefit from it, as well as delivering on ambitious targets for net zero”.

Mr MacAskill was concerned that the best interests of Scotland's economy or the coastal communities were abroad and was worried profits from the Forth were "keeping Canadian pensioners in the standard of living they’ve become accustomed to".

He added: "The real problem in Scotland is that both the UK and Scottish Government have taken the view that ports are an issue for the free market. But port ownership in private hands may be one thing a complete lack of regulation or control is quite another. This wouldn’t be tolerated in other modes of transport such as rail and road or even air.

"Scotland is losing out badly and freeports wherever they may be cannot resolve the fundamental problem that Scotland’s principal estuaries are controlled by private ventures whose main interest are in competing estuaries south of the border."

HeraldScotland:

A Peel Ports spokesman said: “We’ve invested multi-millions of pounds into various operations on the west coast, providing hundreds of direct and indirect jobs for Scotland over many years.

"From the cruise facilities at the Ocean Terminal in Greenock and the regeneration of the Inchgreen dry dock, to ambitious plans for the former coal port at Hunterston, our intentions are fully aligned with the country’s economic strategy. Overall, our facilities are creating opportunities for investment, jobs and skills that will benefit the people and businesses of Scotland, especially in growth sectors such as renewables."

A Forth Ports spokesman said: “Forth Ports is a proudly Scottish-based company that is registered and headquartered in Scotland where all major decisions are taken. The company, which is a Real Living Wage employer, invests heavily in Scotland - £40m in the Port of Dundee; £60m in the Port of Grangemouth; and the recently announced £40m in Scotland’s largest renewable energy hub at the Port of Leith – and we are confident that our forthcoming Green Freeport bid, if successful, will create tens of thousands of jobs for Scotland.”

According to the Ugland House website it has been subject to "highly-charged and unfair comment" in the media and political circles.

"Amongst other things, companies registered at Ugland House have been described as "shells", owned by individuals to evade tax and take advantage of secrecy laws. This is not the case and mischaracterises the true purpose of setting up Cayman companies," the site states.

"The Cayman Islands strongly adheres to international anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing standards and has invoked numerous statutory measures to cooperate with and assist foreign governments, authorities and courts with the provision of information held in the Cayman Islands."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government actively supports the development of Scotland’s ports. Under the joint approach we have agreed to set up Green Ports, the lead objective will be regeneration and the creation of high-quality, well-paid jobs. The Scottish Government wants the Green Port model to be an exemplar in the drive to create high value jobs; and to drive inclusive and sustainable growth at local, regional and national level.”