US and Australian tax administrations working with HMRC to fight tax evasion
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced that it is working with tax administrations from the United States (the IRS) and Australia (the ATO) on analysing data to reveal "extensive use of complex offshore structures to conceal assets by wealthy individuals and companies".
HMRC is still analysing about 400GB of data, and it said that early results show the use of companies and trusts in a number of global territories including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Cook Islands.
Information that is shared with other tax administrations is also incorporated within the data set, as tax administrations launch a global fight against tax evasion.
HMRC has identified over 100 people who benefit from these structures and it said that a number of those individuals are already under investigation for offshore tax evasion.
In addition, more than 200 UK accountants, lawyers and others who advise on setting up these structures are to be investigated.
"UK residents who use these offshore structures should review their taxation arrangements, and seek advice if necessary, to ensure they are compliant with UK tax law. HMRC encourages voluntary compliance and early disclosure of tax irregularities. Failure to do so may result in a criminal prosecution or significant financial penalties and the possibility of their identity being published," HMRC said.
Jennie Granger, HMRC commissioner and director general for enforcement and compliance, said that working with international bodies was an important step to thwarting tax evasion.
"There is nothing illegal about an international structure, especially in a globally integrated economy, and these arrangements may be perfectly legitimate and may already have been declared to HMRC. However, they may involve tax evasion, avoidance or other serious offences by taxpayers. What has to stop is using offshore structures to illegally hide assets and income," she said.
In February, HMRC's head of analytics, Mike Hainey, told Computing that the organisation was trawling the internet, including social media, and other websites through which people share information, in a bid to find potential evidence of tax fraud that it can feed into its new Connect data warehouse.
"The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you," the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said after the latest announcement.
"The government has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to fund the fight against tax evasion, both at home and abroad. This data is another weapon in HMRC's arsenal.
"Ahead of the UK's presidency of the G8 this year, the Prime Minister has made it a key priority to drive an international effort to increase transparency and clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion. By working with our international partners in this way, we are again demonstrating our commitment to this work," he added.