Tuesday, May 07, 2013

How not to deal with tax cheats

You're a major multinational corporation. Like the rest of your ilk, you spend millions hiring a legion of accountants and lawyers to cheat on your taxes and steal billions of pounds. Then you get caught. But rather than sticking the board of directors and senior management in prison where they belong, the UK government cuts a confidential deal which lets you keep most of what you've stolen, while not even punishing you with a PR hit.

Ordinary UK citizens are understandably upset about this state of affairs, especially given the austerity they're suffering under, and so a group of them are currently taking HM Revenue and Customs to court to challenge one such deal with Goldman-Sachs. In the process that deal has become even murkier. First, there's the way HMRC used spy-powers to investigate and persecute the man who blew the whistle on these deals to a parliamentary select committee, searching his "belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls". Then there's the fact that the deal was made in contravention of legal advice and HMRC guidelines to save the Chancellor from embarrasment. Yes, major corporations are being allowed to steal millions, let off for political purposes, and those who expose the practice are persecuted. You can see why people are angry...

The Guardian makes the point: if the deals are so good for the taxpayer, why not publish them? The fact that they are kept secret suggests that they are not so good after all, and that it is being done to protect HMRC from proper scrutiny of its performance.

Meanwhile, this raises the obvious question: does the New Zealand Department of Inland Revenue cut such deals? If so, with whom, and how much does it let them steal? We deserve to know. Something one of our MPs could look into, perhaps?