James Moore: Would the HSBC tax debacle have come to light if the media hadn't got involved?

It’s true that £135m of tax has been recovered. But that’s less than the French achieved. And less than the Spanish.

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook To hear HM Revenue & Customs tell it, it has done a stand-up job with the HSBC account data spirited out of Switzerland by whistleblower Hervé Falciani.

Its chief executive, Lin Homer, told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that after going through its “triage process” just 150 UK linked accounts were placed in the most serious category.

Of those, three got as far as the Crown Prosecution Service. Just one resulted in a charge and conviction.

It’s true that £135m of tax has been recovered. But that’s less than the French achieved. And less than the Spanish. Even though HMRC had more names to work with. Meanwhile, HSBC is apparently facing no sanction despite the fact that other countries are gunning for it.

Now HMRC might – might – have a point when it says that it has recovered less than the French and the Spanish because less tax was due on the UK-linked accounts. We have to take that on trust. 

However, Ms Homer’s pointing to the fact that the UK is the only country (other than Ireland) to have secured a criminal conviction as a good thing is risible.

It’s like an England football manager losing 6-0 to a Swiss side his team was expected to beat and then stating at the post-match press conference that he was pleased with the lads because the French and the Spanish both lost by seven apiece.

Meanwhile the BBC’s Panorama has been claiming that it has been trying to hand over more information since it first looked at the subject back in 2013. Mr Falciani himself has said he made an offer to share his sweeties before the information was officially passed on by the French in 2010.

Ms Homer said they’d watched the programme and seen nothing new. They look at lots of media reports. And that the Revenue was limited in what it could do with the material it had by treaty. (So how about asking the French whether they could go beyond it?)

Sadly, she painted a picture of a Revenue happy to sit back on process, and unwilling to take the aggressive steps required to take on wealthy tax cheats.

The most disturbing question is this: what would have happened to all this stuff had the media not got involved?

There was a phrase that used to appear on school reports that might be appropriate for Margaret Hodge’s committee to use in its report when it comes to address the subject of HSBC Switzerland and the Revenue. Must. Try. Harder.