Liechtenstein effect here to stay

The first of many? Liechtenstein

Advisers are usually quick to accuse HM Revenue & Customs of
heavy-handedness when it uses unorthodox methods to increase tax take.

But last week, as HMRC revealed that it had paid an informant for bank
account details held in the Alpine tax haven Liechtenstein, advisers were
surprisingly uncritical.

The taxman obtained the information from a former employee of Liechtenstein
bank LGT, who had stolen the data and peddled it to international revenue

HMRC paid £100,000 for the bank records ­ a pittance when contrasted with the
£100m the taxman expects to recoup by using the information.

Jason Collins, head of tax litigation and investigations at McGrigors, said
HMRC’s acquisition was ‘unusual’ but accepted that given the amounts at stake
‘the ends could justify the means’.

George Bull, head of tax at Baker Tilly, said that nobody working in the
mainstream tax advisory industry supported tax evasion. He expressed concerns
about how the veracity of the bought information could be checked, but described
HMRC’s purchase of the information as nothing worse than ‘pragmatic’.

John Whiting, tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was not even surprised
by HMRC’s methods. ‘This may raise eyebrows, but HMRC does have powers to reward
informants and in most cases it does pay,’ he said.

The significant amount of tax HMRC expects to recover using the information
means paying informants could become a more regular occurrence. HMRC will be
glad that advisers are quietly accepting the practice rather than nipping at its

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