Tax chief faces grilling from MPs

Published: Wednesday 11th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The head of HM Revenue & Customs is facing questions from MPs amid claims it failed to act on tax-dodging linked to HSBC’s Swiss banking arm.

Permanent Secretary Lin Homer is due to give evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as the row over allegations that the Geneva subsidiary was used by thousands of customers for large-scale tax dodging shows no sign of abating.

Labour has demanded to know whether former chairman and chief executive Lord Green was asked how much he knew at the time of his appointment as trade minister in David Cameron’s government.

And the party’s Treasury spokeswoman Shabana Mahmood called on Chancellor George Osborne to say whether tax authorities – who have so far pursued only one criminal case in relation to the HSBC files – were taking a “selective prosecution policy” towards the 6,000 cases passed to them by France in 2010.

A Downing Street spokeswoman initially said that neither Lord Green – who served as a coalition minister from 2011 to 2013 – nor any other member of the Government had “any knowledge that HSBC may have been involved in wrongdoing” in relation to its Swiss operation until the allegations were reported in the media over the past few days.

But she later acknowledged that she could not rule out ministers having read media reports about the scandal in the years since a huge cache of files relating to secret Swiss accounts was first passed to French authorities by an IT worker in 2007.

“We have no record that any government minister was made aware by HMRC officials that HSBC employees may have been involved in wrongdoing relating to its Swiss banking arm prior to the media reports in recent days,” the Number 10 spokeswoman told a regular Westminster press briefing.

She said that when French authorities passed files to HMRC in 2010, they imposed restrictions on how the material could be used. The files have already sparked criminal probes in several countries and in 2011 then HMRC boss Dave Hartnett told a parliamentary inquiry that “the whole nation probably knows that our department has a disc from the Swiss – from the Geneva branch of a major UK bank – with 6,000 names, all ripe for investigation”.

Details of 30,000 accounts holding almost £78 billion of assets recorded in the files were recently obtained by a French newspaper and analysed by a team of investigative journalists, including reporters from The Guardian and the BBC’s Panorama.

HMRC has insisted it “systematically worked through” all the data provided and recouped £135 million in tax, interest and penalties from those seeking to get out of paying tax by hiding their assets in Switzerland.

“The decision to prosecute is made by the Crown Prosecution Service based on the facts,” it added.

Published: Wednesday 11th February 2015 by The News Editor

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