Programme claims spark Lloyds probe

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The Independent Online

British tax officials are investigating allegations that wealthy clients of Lloyds Banking Group are being encouraged to avoid UK taxes by channelling money through China, it was reported today.

The BBC said that an employee at the Jersey branch of the bank was secretly filmed - as part of a Panorama investigation - giving the advice to a man posing as a client with £4 million to invest.

Lloyds, which received a £17 billion government bailout last year, denied any wrongdoing and said it would not comment on the actions of an individual employee.

Dave Hartnett, permanent secretary at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), told the BBC that the advice was "incredibly irresponsible".

HMRC is said to be investigating the incident after the BBC handed over its footage.

The Panorama investigation into off-shore banking also looked into Northern Rock, which was bailed out with £27 billion of taxpayers' money at the start of the banking crisis in 2008.

A banker from Northern Rock in Guernsey told Panorama's undercover customer that he could avoid the EU tax rules by opening an account in the name of a non-trading company.

The banker said the customer should inform the Inland Revenue, but the BBC claimed the bank itself keeps the details secret from the taxman.

Northern Rock denied its subsidiary is behaving inappropriately and said it informs and reminds all account holders that they are responsible for declaring the interest earned from their savings to their relevant tax authority.

An HMRC spokeswoman said: "Dave Hartnett has agreed to look at the evidence the BBC has gathered."

* Panorama: Banks Behaving Badly? is on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight.