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3 weird ways that ABBA (and others) tried to reduce their tax bill

June 22, 2022

3 weird ways that ABBA (and others) tried to reduce their tax bill

With the end of the financial year upon us, Google searches related to reducing tax bills are once again trending upwards.

With the end of the financial year upon us, Google searches related to reducing tax bills are once again trending upwards.

Throughout history, people have often made attempts to reduce their tax bills – sometimes successfully, often not – but the mechanisms people use to cut back on what they owe each year can sometimes be incredibly inventive.

Here are three weird ways people have tried to reduce their tax bills.

Haute court case: ABBA’s deductible duds

Celebrated Swedish band ABBA are perhaps almost as well known for the elaborate stage outfits as they are for their sugary brand of Euro-pop – but behind the glitz, glam and glitter was an elaborate ploy to reduce the group’s tax bill.

Under Swedish law, the almost offensively ’70s garb could be written off as tax deductions on the condition they were too outlandish to be worn offstage – a fact revealed in 2014 by singer and songwriter Bjorn Ulvaeus.

The courts seemed to agree that the band’s iconic look was too ridiculous for everyday use, too – in 2007, Mr Ulvaeus faced his Waterloo moment after being accused of failing to pay millions in taxes between 1999 and 2005. 

Unlike Napoleon, however, Mr Ulvaeus ultimately emerged triumphant.

Lights, camera, tax fraud: British film scammers given the flick

Independent British drama film A Landscape of Lies may have won a Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival after its release in 2011, but the story of how this relatively unknown piece of cinema came to be has likely been the subject of more news headlines.

That’s because the film was never supposed to exist – it was invented by five men as a ploy to scam the British government out of US$4.2 million (worth US$5.46 million today) in tax benefits and grants.

Although the group behind the scam, under the name Evolved Pictures, enlisted writer-turned-filmmaker Paul Knight to produce a script, they never intended to make the film.

Cameras only started rolling after initial arrests were made on suspicions the whole project was a sham, when Evolved Pictures – desperate to avoid jail time – contacted Mr Knight again and promised to fund his next five films if he could produce this one in the space of only four months.

The plan – which Mr Knight was not aware of at the time – eventually failed, and the five people behind the scheme were left facing jail sentences between 3.5 and 6.5 years each.

Tax lyrical: Obscuring tax records with tax ‘records’

In the mid to late ’70s, disco was at the height of its powers – pop stars like Michael Jackson were beginning to release crossover hits in the vein of earlier club tunes and John Travolta had an infectious case of Saturday Night Fever.

As it turns out, the funky late-night sounds of disco had other powers outside pop culture, too – namely, deliberately losing buckets of money for tax-savvy record label owners to write off at the end of the financial year.

This period saw several record labels set up smaller ‘imprints’ (a division of the main label, marketed under a different name) to release a handful of albums that were never marketed or, in some cases, even distributed to retailers.

To further curtail the possibility of any accidental sales, these albums were often given intentionally woeful covers to deter would-be buyers, and many of the bands whose music was being used as part of the scam were never even told their work had been published.

Eventually, the US Internal Revenue Service caught wise to these groovy shenanigans and the practice was stamped out, but the music lives on – tax scam records have since become collectors items (in some cases selling for US$14,000 a disc) while a handful of other releases (like American band Reality’s album Disco Party) have even been given reissues.

Reach does not assume responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of any information provided, and the views expressed are not reflective of Reach Markets’ position.

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