Friday, May 10, 2013

Investigating the tax cheats?

Potentially some good news: the UK HMRC is supposedly investigating its tax cheats:

More than 100 of Britain's richest people have been caught hiding billions of pounds in secretive offshore havens, sparking an unprecedented global tax evasion investigation.

George Osborne, the chancellor, warned the alleged tax evaders, and a further 200 accountants and advisers accused of helping them cheat the taxman: "The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you."

HM Revenue & Customs warned those involved, who were named in offshore data first offered to the authorities by a whistleblower in 2009, that they will face "criminal prosecution or significant penalties" if they do not voluntarily disclose their tax irregularities, as the UK steps up its efforts to clamp down on avoidance ahead of the G8 summit in June.

But while they're making the right noises, there are two reasons to be suspicious of their enthusiasm. Firstly, they received this data back in 2010, and it looks like they sat on it until the International Confederation of Investigative Journalists made it an issue. Secondly, their usual way of "dealing" with tax cheats is to cut them a secret deal which lets them keep most of what they've stolen. And that's just not acceptable. Tax cheating is a crime, and its perpetrators steal from us all. They need to be named, shamed, prosecuted and jailed, not given a sweetheart deal.

Meanwhile, I'm still wondering: has the New Zealand IRD received any of this data? Does it incriminate New Zealanders? If so, I want to see public action, not a quiet cover-up which lets the criminals get away with it.