HMRC chief: HSBC Swiss tax dodge prosecutions ‘unlikely’
Outgoing HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) chief executive Lin Homer has said it is ‘unlikely’ to pursue further prosecutions against individuals involved in alleged tax evasion at HSBC’s Swiss private bank.
HSBC was accused of helping wealthy clients to evade tax in February 2015, when the BBC’s Panorama programme reported it had seen documents which showed that many of the banks’ 7,000 British clients had not declared their accounts to HMRC.
So far only one person has faced prosecution as a result of the investigation into HSBC Swiss bank account holders. A number of UK clients of the bank in Switzerland settled with HMRC.
Answering questions from the public accounts committee of MPs (PAC), Homer said further prosecutions were ‘unlikely’.
‘We always conduct criminal proceedings where there’s evidence,’ she said. ‘We’ve had another look and we think it unlikely there will be further prosecutions.’
Conservative MP Stephen Phillips accused HMRC of letting HSBC get away ‘scot free’. ‘I, and I suspect many members of parliament, find it extraordinary that a bank that is domiciled in this jurisdiction with oversight of its Swiss subsidiary has not had action taken against it either by its regulator or by you,’ he said.
Homer said HMRC would only prosecute an individual if the evidence was strong enough to secure a conviction with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
‘It’s always about the quality of evidence in the round,’ Homer said. ‘We are not a prosecuting entity in our own right … we go through a very rigorous procedure with the CPS.
‘We and the CPS have to progress on the basis of what we think is possible,’ she said.
She added the CPS could arrive at a different decision to HMRC. ‘We have been sharing data but their decision about prosecutions will be similar, but different to ours,’ she said.
Homer also defended her organisation’s record on prosecutions. ‘We probably present a reasonably accurate proportion of cases to the CPS,’ she said.
Homer’s comments followed news earlier in January that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) would also not take action against HSBC over the tax avoidance claims.
She declined to comment on the FCA’s decision. ‘It’s not for me to comment on another organisation’s decision,’ she said.
Homer is due to from the HMRC chief executive role in April after four years in the post. The PAC launched an inquiry on how HMRC responds to tax evasion, the hidden economy and criminal attacks in December.