City boys face jail

What to make of HMRC’s pursuit of city bankers who have been using offshore trading companies to evade capital gains tax?

Some have been saying what a huge issue it all is. Up to a point. The revenue’s estimated return from the disclosure order it got from Special Commissioner John Avery Jones, albeit a conservative estimate, is only £35m.

The real issue here is, I think, the fact that this is an evasion and not an avoidance issue. The fact it was evasion almost got lost in the FT’s headline, which read ‘Tax Blow for offshore trading,’ as if the chaps in the city had just been pulling some clever little legal wheeze, rather than defrauding the rest of us.

Believe it or not, the distinction still has some importance. It means that, pending the relevant discoveries by HMRC, some city figures (and one or two of them must be well-known given the amounts of money involved) could be in court in the next few years, and even be jailed.

We don’t know what will come from the disclosures, and it may be that many were innocently involved. HMRC may reach settlements with the genuinely naive.

Those who evaded tax consciously are in for real trouble. HMRC and the Treasury find city bankers an easy target to whip up sympathy for their crackdowns of various kinds.

The opportunity to jail a few unscrupulous city high rollers, in the style of US authorities cracking down on white collar crime, would be too good to miss.

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