More countries open inquiries into Liechtenstein accounts

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The Independent Online

The number of countries investigating whether their citizens have been illegally evading tax by using secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein rose to 11 yesterday, with Sweden, Australia and New Zealand all announcing their own inquiries.

All three countries said they had information believed to come from a former employee of LGT, the state-owned Liechtenstein bank, who has sold details of hundreds of wealthy individuals illegally stashing undeclared cash in the principality to tax authorities around the world.

The scope of the investigation also widened further in Germany, the first country to pay for the data, allegedly stolen from LGT. Investigators are now looking at accounts held by German taxpayers at the Swiss bank Vontobel, though it has denied any involvement in the scandal.

The French tax authorities also said yesterday they were investigating several cases of alleged tax evasion, though the government said it never paid for this sort of information.

The scale of the scandal prompted new calls for an international crackdown on countries that make it possible for individuals from other states to evade tax.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development now lists just three countries it describes as "unco-operative tax havens": Liechtenstein, Monaco and Andorra. Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman of HM Revenue & Customs, called for further pressure to be put on the blacklisted states. "Tax evasion is not a victimless crime," he said. "Honest citizens have to meet the cost of the tax that is evaded by a minority that is dishonest."

HMRC has already begun investigating Britons suspected of tax evasion, though a spokesman said there were conflicting views over whether the stolen information would be admissible in any legal case brought against individuals.

The 100 or so people that HMRC has been told have secret accounts in Liechtenstein have been contacted, he added, and have been warned they will be investigated. "We've told them we need to talk," he said, adding that investigators would seek additional evidence before considering prosecutions. "It's hard to imagine going to court purely on the basis of the information we've received."

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