Bark & Co Solicitors London News: HMRC Crackdown on Offshore Accounts
BARK & COSOLICITORS IN LONDON
It has recently come to our attention that twoBritons have been arrested on suspicion of usingSwiss Bank accounts held with HSBC to evade UKtaxes. This could lead to the first criminalprosecutions in a three year clampdown on offshoretax evasion by HMRC.
According to our source, HMRC made thearrests late last year and both individuals have beenreleased on bail pending charges. These arrests arethought to have resulted from the review of theinformation stolen from HSBC’s private bank inZurich by Herve Falciani, a French softwareengineer, which contained account informationpertaining to 6,600 accounts held by UK residents.
This significant development once againunderlines HMRC’s desire to stamp out tax evasionlinked to funds retained in offshore accounts andsignals a hardening of HMRC’s attitude. News ofthese arrests may counter the concerted criticism ofHMRC’s crackdown on tax evasion. Somecommentators have accused the taxman of shyingaway from mounting criminal prosecutions and thedeterrent message that they convey to the tax-paying population. We will of course keep youupdated on this development.
In a similar vein, news reached us yesterday thatthe whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has beenprovided with a raft of information concerning 2,000wealthy individuals and corporations that heldaccounts with Bank Julius Baer in the British VirginIslands tax haven. Rudolf Elmer, who was previouslyemployed by Julius Baer to oversee the Caribbeanoperations of the Swiss Bank for eight years until hewas dismissed in 2002, handed over the discs toWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a pressconference. Mr Assange has promised to publish thedetails once the information has been verified. WLHunderstands that WikiLeaks is taking legal advice onwhat information they can release, but it is likely thatthe website will not hold back as evidenced duringprevious high profile “leaks.”
Rudolf Elmer is currently standing trial accusedof coercion and breaching banking secrecy laws inSwitzerland and his motive in supplying thisinformation is to expose mass potential tax evasion.He told the Observer newspaper last weekend thatthose named in the documents come from “theUS, Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia, and includebusiness people, politicians, people who make theirliving in the arts and multinational companies-fromboth sides of the Atlantic.” It is unclear whetherHMRC has been passed this information, however itis clear that the taxman will be monitoringdevelopments very closely. It is also likely that thoseindividuals who might be affected and have taxissues stemming from the ownership of suchaccounts may be seeking urgent professional advice.
This development reinforces the message that ifyou have an undeclared offshore account, then youshould come forward voluntarily and resolve theissue before HMRC comes calling. It is no longer anoption to bury your head in the sand and hope it willall go away. We will update this story as it develops, howevershould you require any further information, please donot hesitate to get in touch