Ocado boss Tim Steiner is the beneficiary of millions of company shares held in the tax-free Bahamas, it has emerged. The 48-year-old, who co-founded the online grocer in 2000, has around £160million shares held in his own name in the business.
However, he is also the beneficiary of a trust and a company both based in the Bahamas, company accounts show.
Ocado has been in the spotlight in recent months after a deal bonanza that promoted it to the FTSE 100. With no income tax, capital gains tax or corporation tax, the Bahamas is a popular haven for the wealthy. Companies based there are also able to keep much of their affairs private thanks to different reporting rules to the UK. There is no implication that Steiner has done anything illegal.
However, the shareholdings have raised questions about the transparency of the shares that he and his family benefit from.
The Steiner 2008 Millennium Trust was set up and is owned by Steiner’s family, which has a shipping-empire based out of the Bahamas. The trust has sold and transferred millions of pounds worth of Ocado shares in recent years. Shares are also held in Linic Ltd, an investment company believed to be based in the Bahamas and owned by the family trust.
This has cashed in £76.6million so far this year after it sold 4.5million Ocado shares in March at 540p each, and a further 5million just last week for 1046p per share.
Ocado listed on the stock market in 2010, but in the past year its share price has rocketed after the online grocer sealed numerous deals to sell its pioneering robot-warehouse technology to supermarkets in the US, Canada, France and Sweden.
Shares are up 547per cent since the float. They closed up 1.7per cent, or 17.5p, at 1072p yesterday.
The trust is understood to still hold around 4.8million shares in Ocado worth around £51.5million at current prices. Steiner has a personal holding of around 15million shares – equivalent to around £161million.
Ocado would not disclose how many of its shares are held by Linic Ltd. Prem Sikka, professor of accounting and finance at the University of Sheffield, urged the Government to end the secrecy surrounding offshore trusts and other firms linked to the UK.
He said: ‘Frankly, trusts need to be regulated and there needs to be a public register.
‘The Government also needs to tell us what the tax cost is of allowing these trusts.’
The trust and its investment decisions are managed by Arthur Seligman, a lawyer who is based in the Bahamas. Steiner is not a trustee.
His wealth, however, has grown in recent years, with analysts saying Ocado has transformed into ‘the Microsoft of retail’.
Steiner quit his job as a Goldman Sachs bond trader and set up Ocado with two friends.
He lives with his Polish girlfriend, Patrycja Pyka, 29, a lingerie model, reportedly in an £80,000-a-month rented mansion near the former family home.
Educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Hertfordshire, Steiner grew up in Highgate in north London and graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in economics.
A spokesman for Ocado declined to comment last night.