Rooney, Carr and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger were among 675 people who invested £79m ($98m, €94.3m) in 2011 via a scheme that claimed to improve economic growth in deprived areas.
Their money built two data centres in the North of England with the scheme bagging generous tax relief of £131m – or £50m “tax profit” for the investors.
Despite assurances, the Cobalt Data Centres 2 and 3, built by project backers Harcourt Capital, remain unused, although the firm told The BBC that it expects tenants soon.
Data centre scheme
Investors in the data centres were given generous tax allowances, as part of the UK government’s strategy to encourage economic growth in deprived areas, shortly before these allowances were scrapped in April 2011.
The allowance enabled schemes to claim 50% tax relief on the full £263m cost of building the data centres, despite their contribution being £79m. The remaining 70% of the cost was borrowed from Bank Winter in Vienna.
It means many investors received more money in tax relief than they actually paid.
Investors contributed an average of £117,000 each, though the exact proportion is not clear. As a group they made a “tax profit” of about £50m.
This allowance – of about £74,000 each – could then be deducted from future tax bills.
Accelerated payment notices (APNs)
The arrangement was entirely legal as investors were not aware the data centres would not be used within a reasonable time.
The BBC said it understands some investors have had tax payment demands, known as accelerated payment notices (APNs).
APNs are issued by HMRC in cases where it believes too little tax is paid and requires an individual to pay the disputed tax upfront and appeal afterwards if they disagree.
Harcourt Capital revealed that HMRC began an inquiry into the centres in 2012 but did no work on it until 2015.
Some investors have been “forced” to fight HMRC APN demands and ended up taking the matter to court, it added.
Meanwhile, HMRC said it does not comment on individual cases.
It is the second scheme embroil the British comedian Jimmy Carr, who in 2012 came under fire for sheltering £3.3m in income using the legal but aggressive Jersey-based K2 scheme.