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UK tax authority denies failings over HSBC client files

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The UK tax authority denied it failed to take adequate action against British clients of HSBC Holdings Plc who hid money in Swiss accounts.

[LONDON] The UK tax authority denied it failed to take adequate action against British clients of HSBC Holdings Plc who hid money in Swiss accounts.

Lin Homer, chief executive officer of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, said that much of the data on the 3,600 individuals identified was "incomplete" and "dirty," and her department had dealt with the most serious cases.

"We were speedy and on the case, and I think we acted with real effectiveness to use the data that was available," Homer told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in London Wednesday.

The publication of details of how HSBC's Swiss unit handled accounts for tax evaders and criminals has sparked a political outcry in Britain less than three months before a general election that opinion polls show is too close to call.

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After a week when the Conservatives attacked the Labour opposition for being too hostile to companies, Labour is fighting back by accusing Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne of being too close.

Cameron is facing criticism for his decision to appoint a former HSBC chairman, Stephen Green, as a minister in 2011, eight months after the Treasury was handed files from an HSBC whistle-blower. Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament that "every proper process" was followed.

Homer insisted that HMRC staff had been "diligent" in their approach, and said its record of securing one conviction and 135 million pounds (US$206 million) in unpaid tax, fines and interest compared well with that of other countries. Of the 1,100 most serious cases, only 130 are still open, she said.

"I do not believe there is any lost tax in this," she said.

The HSBC leak began as a rogue operation by a computer technician, Herve Falciani, who left the company in 2008 with five disks of confidential information. A self-described whistle-blower, Falciani provided details on the 100,000-plus accounts to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund. She passed details from the cache - which came to be known as the Falciani List or Lagarde List - to governments around the world.

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