Lib Dems propose making aiding tax evasion a criminal offence
Danny Alexander has unveiled proposals to create a new offence of “corporate failure to avoid preventing an economic crime” for those who encourage or help tax evasion. Mr Alexander told the Andrew Marr Show that those found guilty could be given matching fines to those imposed on the people who actually benefited from the schemes. “Organisations, be they accountants, banks or whatever, who help people evade tax will be liable for this new offence and crucially liable for financial penalties,” Mr Alexander said. The proposed crackdown comes in the wake of HSBC tax-dodging allegations. “These new measures will build on the successful strategy that is making tax evasion as socially unacceptable as benefit fiddling or drinking and driving.”
Lord Ken Macdonald: HSBC should face criminal charges
In a legal opinion prepared for the consumer watchdog SumOfUs, Lord Ken Macdonald QC argues that HSBC’s Swiss arm is potentially open to a range of criminal charges in Britain because there is “credible evidence” that it has had a role in enabling tax evasion. He said it was clear criminal activity had taken place and that once HMRC had knowledge of it they should have acted to conduct an urgent and sustained criminal investigation. Daniel Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, representing SumOfUs, said: “HMRC is legally obliged to consider pursuing a criminal investigation of HSBC based on all available evidence and upon a proper understanding of the law.” SumOfUs is now planning to launch a judicial review of HMRC’s decision not to prosecute the bank.
We don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this. In the same newspaper – the same newspaper, mark you! – we have stories telling us both that HSBC have exposed themselves to prosecution under the law and also that, ..er.. the law absolutely must be changed so as to allow HSBC to be prosecuted. This is technically known as a shambles.
As Lord Ken Macdonald presumably knows and Mr Alexander ought to know, there already exists the common law offence of conspiring to cheat the public revenue, as many convicted felons know to their cost. Perhaps more pertinently, following changes to the law brought in two years ago by the government of which Mr Alexander is a member, anyone who assists in any way in facilitating tax evasion (even as an employee of an organisation) can now be personally liable to a penalty of up to £50,000, which may be expected to concentrate the minds of any individuals at the sharp end of such shenanigans.