U.K. billionaire Richard Branson has mounted a swift online defense of his decision to live on his private Caribbean island retreat, claiming he was not quitting the U.K. for tax but for lifestyle reasons.
Over the weekend, a report in the U.K.'s Sunday Times highlighted the tax benefits for the 63-year-old billionaire in setting up home on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.
The U.K. has an income tax rate of 50 percent for the highest earners, while Necker has a zero rate of income tax. Moving to Necker will mean that he is no longer a British resident and, as such, no longer subject to income or capital gains tax. Branson can still spend up to 183 days in the U.K., however.
"After 40 years building companies & creating jobs in the UK, I now live on Necker working on building not-for-profits…I have not left Britain for tax reasons but for my love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island, which I bought when I was 29 years old," Branson wrote on his Virgin blog page on Sunday.
"I have been very fortunate to accumulate so much wealth in my career, more than I need in my lifetime and would not live somewhere I don't want to for tax reasons."
Branson, who has amassed a personal fortune of $4.6 billion according to Forbes through his Virgin Group brand, insisted that the decision to move to Necker permanently was made seven years ago, around the time when he sold his London mansion, and was down to a lifestyle choice.
Tropical island Necker, the 63-year old said, would give he and his wife Joan "the best chance to live another productive few decades."
"There is no better place to stay active and I can kitesurf, surf, play tennis, swim, do Pilates and just play," Branson said, noting that Necker -- often in the media for its A-list celebrity guests -- had become the place where his family "gathers together."
Defending the reputation of his firm Virgin, which include the well-known airline, media and holiday brands, Branson said his company had always paid its tax bill and that he himself was now focused on not-for profit ventures and charity engagements.
"I spent 40 years working day and night in Great Britain building companies and creating competition and choice for consumers across a whole range of industries. The companies we created from scratch have created tens of thousands of jobs and paid hundreds of millions in tax (and will continue to do so)."
Branson's comments come at a time of public sensitivity over corporate taxations with high-profile criticism of companies Google and Starbucks over their payment- or lack thereof – of corporate tax in the U.K.
- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt