UK revenue settled with 1,000 people who had Swiss-based HSBC accounts

UK tax authorities chose settlement over prosecution as ‘most efficient’ way

Lord Stephen Green: Conservatives were condemned by Labour for not investigating the former HSBC chief executive before appointing him as a trade minister. Photograph: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Lord Stephen Green: Conservatives were condemned by Labour for not investigating the former HSBC chief executive before appointing him as a trade minister. Photograph: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

 
HSBC

rather than prosecute them, because that was “most efficient”, a leading British treasury minister has declared.

Financial secretary David Gauke told the House of Commons that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is now reaping nearly a third more from Britain’s wealthiest than happened during Labour’s years in power.

However, the Conservatives – who held a black-tie dinner last night for wealthy City of London backers – were condemned by Labour for not investigating former HSBC chief executive Lord Stephen Green before appointing him as a trade minister.

Back-taxes

Criminal prosecutions could not be taken on the back of the leaked Swiss files alone, Gauke told MPs, because the Crown Prosecution Service believed that corroborating evidence would be needed for a guilty verdict.

In a statement, HMRC said it has brought in £2 billion in previously unpaid taxes from Switzerland and Liechtenstein, adding that the maximum penalty now for hiding money in tax havens is 200 per cent of the tax evade.

However, the head of HMRC, Lin Homer, and a top treasury official will face a barrage of questions on Wednesday from the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee.

The committee’s influential chair, Labour’s Margaret Hodge, demanded stronger action. “You are left wondering, as you see the enormity of what has been going on, what it actually takes to bring a tax cheat to court,” she said.

For now, much of the attention has centred on Green, who served as the UK’s minister of state for trade and investment between January 2011 and December 2013. A decade ago, he was HSBC’s £20 million-a-year chief executive and chairman.

Crack down

“Stephen Green was an excellent trade minister, he did a good job. But I’d also add no government has done more than this one to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance,” said Cameron.

Former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer Nigel Lawson said he believed that Green had not known what was going on in the bank’s recently-bought subsidiary in Switzerland, which operated at arm’s length.

“I can’t believe that Stephen Green, who, among other things, is an ordained Church of England priest, could possibly have known what was going on. But the fact that he, a very clever man, the fact that he didn’t know what was going on, is very serious,” Lawson said.

Ordinary people face “the most intolerable amount of paperwork” to set up bank accounts “even if they are well known to the bank”, yet “the big wrongdoers seem to not be caught”, the Conservative complained.

Gauke insisted that no evidence existed then or now to show that Green had knowledge of the conduct of HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm.