The Treasury received 6,000 British names. To date, 1,100 people who had secret HSBC bank accounts in Geneva, and who had testified on their tax returns that the accounts did not exist, have settled. The HMRC has received £120m in unpaid taxes, which means that the average HSBC tax dodger was probably evading £54,454 (allowing for the penalty).
Astonishingly, all those who settled were given anonymity and immunity from prosecution despite new powers that allow anyone who has evaded more than £50,000 in tax to be named and shamed on the HMRC website. Though there is more money going into criminal investigation, there has been just one prosecution in the UK as a result of Lagarde’s list: a multimillionaire property developer called Michael Shanly.
Shanly had already reached a civil settlement with HMRC on £1.5m of evaded taxes, and HMRC was stung into a prosecution when he was subsequently discovered to have evaded a further £430,000 on his mother’s estate. How long did he serve in prison? Not an hour. He was fined £470,000. Given his estimated net worth of £130m, the whole experience, while no doubt unpleasant and time-consuming, amounted to a pinprick.
Compare his case with a recent benefit fraud: Abdurrahim Bendaw was convicted in August of a 10-year fraud worth a total of £54,493, almost the average evaded by the British Lagarde listers. No immunity or anonymity for him. He has to repay the amount, faces confiscation orders, and was jailed for 10 months. Judge Leslie Hull warned: “If I don’t send you to prison it will send the wrong message to the public.” Clearly, the message is that tax evasion is just fine and dandy.
Are all the accounting partners employed by HMRC behind this lenient attitude?