TWO BRITISH citizens have been arrested on suspicion of using Swiss bank accounts at HSBC bank to evade tax in what could lead to the first criminal prosecutions in a three-year crackdown on offshore tax havens by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
HMRC’s criminal investigation team made the arrests late last year, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The two Britons are understood to have been released on bail. No charges have yet been made, the source also said.
The Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to bring criminal charges against the two unnamed Britons, who are alleged to have hidden an undisclosed amount of money in HSBC Zurich accounts.
It is understood that there is no suspicion that HSBC was complicit in the alleged tax evasion.
The arrests are thought to have resulted from analysis of stolen data relating to the accounts of thousands British residents that was passed to HMRC last year. The data, allegedly stolen by an ex-employee of HSBC’s Swiss private bank, were passed to the French authorities who later passed it to the UK.
Possible criminal charges for tax evasion include “cheating the revenue”, a common law offence which can carry up to a life sentence in prison, and a charge under the Fraud Act, which can carry a seven-year prison sentence.
Both HSBC and HMRC declined to comment.
News of the arrests signals that HMRC is taking a harder line against people who have undeclared income in their bank accounts. HMRC has held two “amnesties”, offering reduced penalties for tax owed if people come forward about their assets.
The arrests may counter criticism of HMRC’s crackdown on tax evasion. Some tax campaigners have accused the taxman of being soft on tax evaders, and for not launching criminal prosecutions to act as a deterrent against dodging tax.
Earlier this week, Accountancy Age revealed that HMRC expected its Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility could raise around £3bn by 2015, well above the original estimate of £1bn. Around 1,200 Britons have used the Liechtenstein facility to declare money, according to HMRC’s top tax official Dave Hartnett.
Switzerland, which manages an estimated $1.8trillion of foreign wealth, is the most lucrative target in the international crackdown against tax dodgers.
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