New rules will make it easier to prosecute offshore tax evaders

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New rules will make it easier to prosecute offshore tax evaders

The government is consulting the public over plans to introduce a new strict liability criminal offence for individuals who hide their money offshore.

Under the plans, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), run by Lib Dem Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, would no longer need to prove that individuals who have undeclared income offshore intended to evade tax, in order for a criminal conviction to be handed down.

At present, HMRC has to demonstrate that even when someone failed to declare offshore income, that the individual intended to evade tax. The proposed change will mean HMRC only has to demonstrate the income was taxable and undeclared, meaning it will be easier to secure successful prosecutions of offshore tax evaders.

As well as introducing the new criminal offence, the government will consult on a range of options which build on the existing penalties faced by those who have been hiding their money in offshore accounts – currently up to 200 percent of the tax owed – to make sure they act as a clear and effective deterrent.

Local Lib Dems applaud the moves which are yet another step in correcting the lax regime of the former Labour government which allowed massive avoidance of tax by those who should really have paid it. The coalition government has taken significant steps to clamp down on those hiding their money offshore. HMRC has brought in over £1.5 billion over the last two years and, through British leadership at the G8, the UK has taken significant steps towards greater transparency and tax information sharing.

But there can be no let up and the government will continue to pursue offshore tax evaders. Those who continue to believe they can hide wealth offshore should know that there is no safe haven and that serious consequences await them.

The consultation will look at whether the existing penalty limit should be raised further, how penalties could be increased if individuals try to move money around in a bid to avoid detection and extending the penalty regime to include inheritance tax.

The announcement comes as the government publishes an update to its offshore evasion strategy, No Safe Havens.

It will also publicise that HMRC is ready and able to financially reward whistleblowers for significant information that helps uncover offshore hidden untaxed assets.

The UK put tax and transparency at the heart of its G8 Presidency. The government has since signed automatic tax information sharing agreements with the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to automatically share tax information.

The UK has also – along with the France, Spain, Italy and Germany – led the way in pushing for a multi-lateral information sharing pilot. 44 jurisdictions have now signed up to this pilot and the timetable for implementation was set out on 19 March 2014.

Draft legislation to implement the new OECD standard in automatic tax information exchange will be published in due course.

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