HMRC underused HSBC data, PAC claims

NOT ENOUGH was made of data handed to HM Revenue & Customs relating to at least 6,000 UK residents evading tax with secret HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland, the Public Accounts Committee has claimed.

In 2008, HMRC received thousands of documents showing the offshore accounts and assets of rich British customers, originally stolen from HSBC’s Geneva office by a disgruntled IT worker named Hervé Falciani in 2007. This week, those documents were passed onto dozens of news outlets by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

HMRC has used the data to identify around 1,100 people who had dodged their tax liabilities in this way. That evidence was used to find property millionaire Michael Shanly guilty of tax evasion, after he held his late mother’s money in an offshore account and chose not to disclose it to HM Revenue & Customs. Eventually, he pleaded guilty and was hit with an £800,000 bill. He is still the only successful prosecution to have followed the data.

While HMRC has raised £135m on the back of the cache, the PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge accused the tax authority of being too soft.

“If HMRC can be bothered to catch you, you might have to pay, you won’t face prosecution, you’ll get away with it. This is a rotten message to give to taxpayers,” she said.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer (pictured) told the committee the authority “would have liked” to have pursued more criminal prosecutions “if we had met the [criminal] threshold,” but added many had not.

However, she did say more prosecutions could follow when the data is handed over to police to pursue for other offences including money laundering.

Homer added most of the information leaked via the French authorities in 2010 was incomplete or “dirty” data.

She said around 3,200 individuals were traced originally and, of the 1,100 most serious cases – which HMRC had chosen to pursue – only 130 were now outstanding.

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