As tax chiefs are reeling over criticism of their failure to track down tax avoiders in Switzerland, they now face another scandal, and another whistleblower, over HSBC’s operation in the UK.
Channel 4 news can reveal that HM Revenue and Customs are also sitting on yet another list of names – this time from HSBC’s private bank in the offshore tax haven of Jersey.
The Jersey list, containing details of 4,388 Brits with accounts totalling £699 million, was handed over by an anonymous whistleblower almost two-and-a-half years ago.
But – as with the Swiss list – I can reveal very little action seems to have been taken by the tax collectors whose job it is to protect the country’s revenue.
‘HMRC confirms it received a dataset relating to Jersey account holders. As is our normal practice, we have set up a project team to handle this offshore data’
And so far there have been zero prosecutions off the back of this data haul.
HMRC insist that they’ve looked at all the names on the list, and the vast majority of high net worth individuals with accounts in this tax haven were “tax compliant”.
After all, it is not illegal to have an offshore account provided the proper declarations are made, and much of this £699million may well be legitimate.
Interestingly, reports at the time claimed the list contained a number of interesting characters, including a convicted drug dealer and a “computer crook”.
Bankers, city types, and doctors were also said to crop up.
Whoever was on the list, it raises yet more serious questions about HMRC’s appetite and capacity to pursue wealthy individuals going offshore to avoid tax. Especially as the tax haven of Jersey is a British overseas territory.
And it’s another uncomfortable link between HMRC tax boss David Hartnett and UK bank HSBC.
Mr Hartnett was permanent secretary for tax at HMRC until he retired in July 2012. Just six months later he joined HSBC.
A spokesman said: “HMRC confirms it received a dataset relating to Jersey account holders. As is our normal practice, we have set up a project team to handle this offshore data.
“Our risk assessment is that this data may help us recover £10-20m tax.
“The data was incomplete and old. This meant that there was insufficient information to develop potential criminal investigations. We believe the data to be around 10 years old. It also included those who had already disclosed their offshore accounts through earlier campaigns.
“We have given customers the opportunity to voluntarily disclose through the Crown Dependency Disclosure Facility (commenced April 2013). Every Jersey financial institution was obliged to write directly to each of their customers to tell them about this disclosure facility. We are now challenging about 170 who we believe pose the highest risk.”