MORE COUNTRIES are in talks with the taxman to sign amnesties similar to the groudbreaking deal with Liechtenstein, which lifted the lid on secret bank accounts potentially holding untaxed assets.
Overseas banks are now taking active steps to ensure that funds they hold for UK taxpayers are fully tax compliant. In most cases, undeclared monies or assets are no longer welcome, advisers say.
Dave Hartnett, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) permanent secretary, said: “A number of countries long seen as tax havens are looking at the advantages that come with disclosure regimes. We are talking to them.
“Every day HMRC exposes more money hidden offshore. So burying your head in the sand is becoming a very expensive and risky option.”
Tax investigations specialists at Grant Thornton flagged up HMRC ratcheting up the pressure on those believed to have undeclared funds held offshore.
Frank Strachan, a tax director at the firm, said: “In recent weeks we have seen the ruthless approach HMRC have adopted towards UK taxpayers with HSBC Geneva accounts.
“The advice hasn’t changed – take specialist advice now to regularise your affairs now. If you don’t, you can be certain that HMRC are seeking to hunt you down.
“It’s time to stop losing sleep and take affirmative action,” Strachan added.
The warning comes in the wake of the Liechtenstein amnesty rules being tightened up.
A second joint declaration between the UK and Liechtenstein was released earlier this month.
The clarified rules confirm bank accounts can be opened in Liechtenstein by people who did not already hold an offshore account in another jurisdiction before 1 September 2009 – but they will not be eligible for the LDF’s 10-year limitation period on undeclared assets, or the fixed 10% penalty.
The minimum penalty which will be levied is 20% and could, in some circumstances, be higher.
Some advisers say this is a complete move away from the original regime where people – even if they did not already hold an offshore account – could open an account in Liechtenstein and gain the full benefits of the LDF regime.
Sue Holmes, head of tax investigations at Smith & Williamson, said: “My view is that this revised regime should alert individuals who have not considered regularising their UK tax positions to come forward as soon as possible, as they are likely to find their Liechtenstein assets much reduced come 2015 [when the LDF closes] and they will also have a very definite threat of prosecution.”
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