Revenue strikes deal with tax evaders

by Calum Fuller

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02 Nov 2012

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SEVERAL TAX EVADERS included on a list passed to the taxman by the French authorities will not be prosecuted and retain their anonymity after they struck deals with the HMRC.

The list, containing 6,000 names of people with secret Swiss bank accounts, was passed to HM Revenue & Customs by its opposite number in France more than two years ago.

Of that number, 500 have since been investigated on suspicion of serious fraud, while only one – property millionaire Michael Shanly – has been convicted after he pleaded guilty.

Shanly paid back about £430,000 in tax and was hit with a £400,000 fine after he hid his mother's money in an HSBC account in Switzerland.

Despite pursuing Shanly – and potentially more – in the courts, the Revenue is offering most secret account-holders immunity in exchange for settling their tax bills and the payment of a penalty.

The bar for criminal investigation is relatively high, with HMRC typically reserving it for use as a wider deterrent and where the conduct involved is "such that only a criminal sanction is appropriate".

An HMRC spokesman told Accountancy Age that its use of the data has been "a major success", with more than 400 individuals choosing to "disclose irregularities under the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility", while more than 200 individuals "are making disclosures of their tax liabilities direct to the Offshore Co-ordination Unit".

"Some of these cases go back 20 years," he added. "We have successfully prosecuted one individual and further criminal investigations are in the pipeline.

"We expect to recover hundreds of millions of unpaid taxes and our message to anyone who has not come forward is that they should do so now. If they don't, HMRC are clear that they will be relentlessly pursued."

Evaders using overseas accounts face penalties of as much as 200% of the tax owed.

The list was originally released when HSBC IT technician Hervé Falciani stole a disc from the bank's offices in Geneva containing the details of 6,000 UK customers. His flat was later raided by French police, who confiscated the disc. It was then passed on to the French revenue, which went on to share the details with its opposite number in the UK, instead of returning the information to the Swiss.

Some critics are concerned that the fact the list was stolen could be a source of problems for the taxman.

Harry Travers, partner at law firm BCL Burton Copeland, said: "HMRC has to abide by the highest public standards, and I don't think using the fruits of stolen property is part of that.

"The list may be inadmissable [in court] and an abuse of process. The reliability of the material may be in question, too." 

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