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HSBC leaks: tax authority responds to critics

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Following the censure HMRC received over the HSBC ‘Swiss leaks’ before the Public Accounts Committee on 11 February, as well as further press criticism, HMRC issued a statement on when and how it came by the leaked HSBC Suisse list, the restrictions on use of this data, and how the steps it took to collect tax due and pursue criminal prosecutions compare with action taken by other countries.

‘The government has invested around £1bn in HMRC’s compliance activities since 2010, and has made 42 changes to tax laws to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion,’ HMRC said. ‘Last year, HMRC secured £23.9bn of additional revenue from our compliance activities by cracking down on tax evasion, avoidance, fraud and organised crime. Overall, between 2010 and 2015 we will have brought in more than £100bn of additional revenues. This includes more than £31bn from large businesses, £2bn from international agreements and disclosure facilities, and £852m from the UK’s 6,000 richest people through our high net worth unit.

‘The £2bn collected from offshore evasion has mainly come through our agreement with Switzerland on a withholding tax on Swiss bank accounts held by UK residents and from the international Liechtenstein disclosure facility, through which people can make disclosure to HMRC about offshore accounts.

‘Our powers to crack down on international tax evasion are being further strengthened by new international common reporting standards, which more than 90 countries have agreed to as an extra tool for closing down the options for tax cheats to pursue this increasingly high-risk practice.

‘In 2009, the French tax authority obtained account data stolen from HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary in 2007. HMRC opened discussions with the French authorities in 2009, and in February 2010 we made a formal request under an international tax information treaty for information relating to UK account holders. HMRC was given a disk at the end of April 2010 and immediately began to examine its contents. There have been suggestions that the person who took the data from HSBC Suisse and gave it to the French had also attempted to contact HMRC in 2008, although we have not been able to find any record of any email or phone contact with him. We are still looking.’