Britain has come under renewed criticism for its failure to prosecute tax evaders hiding cash at HSBC’s Swiss arm, as a French court handed down a jail sentence to the heiress of the Nina Ricci fashion and perfume fortune for the same crime.
Arlette Ricci, 73, was sentenced to a year in prison and two years suspended for “fraude fiscale” (hiding millions of euros to evade French taxes). She was also fined €1m (£720,000) and given a suspended sentence of a further two years. Her daughter, Margot Vignat, 51, was also convicted and given an eight-month suspended sentence.
Ms Ricci, who can appeal, was ordered to pay millions in back taxes – the precise amount will be set at a later date. The French court also confiscated two properties worth €4m.
Ms Ricci is the first of 50 French people facing trial over HSBC Switzerland accounts which were leaked to the authorities by whistleblower Hervé Falciani.
By contrast, in the UK, the HMRC has managed to prepare only three potential criminal cases from the 3,600 individuals, businesses and trusts on the British version of the “Falciani list”. Of that trio, the Crown Prosecution Service only chose to prosecute one case.
Margaret Hodge, who chaired the Public Accounts Committee investigation into the HSBC Swiss bank, told The Independent: “Britain has been pathetic … Yet again France has shown you can take people to court over tax evasion and win.
“The French are showing that you can defend the taxpayer’s interest much more aggressively by challenging rich individuals and multinationals. All we ask is that they pay a fair share of tax.”
The French government handed British authorities the UK names on the list more than five years ago. While HMRC says it has collected £135m from those 3,600 individuals, companies and trusts, all but one have avoided criminal prosecution. Many did a deal with the British government, which gave them exemption if they fully disclosed all the information.
Transcripts of phone conversations between Ms Ricci and her daughter emerged in the financial newspaper Les Echos, in which she boasts about how she had changed banks to escape prosecution. Ms Ricci says: “I was never troubled. So I bought a chalet in Klosters, and now it’s fine.”
Ms Ricci had blamed HSBC for wrongly advising her.Reuse content