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What can we say about the HSBC bank’s activities, in advance of the BBC’s Panorama documentary this evening (BBC One, 8.30pm GMT)?
One: HSBC Bank has been helping thousands of wealthy clients to evade hundreds of millions of pounds worth of tax. A nice dodge for the clients – and a nice earner for the bank!
Two: This is old news. HM Revenue and Customs was made aware of HSBC’s tax-avoiding practices in 2010 but from more than 7,000 British clients, the UK government has prosecuted just one person, despite having identified 1,100 tax avoiders. Didn’t George Osborne say there would be “no safe haven” for these people?
Three: HSBC did not just turn a blind eye to tax evaders – in some cases it broke the law by actively helping its clients. The example on the BBC News website is of a wealthy family who were given a foreign credit card in order to withdraw their undeclared cash overseas. The bank that likes to say “Oui”?
Four: The man in charge of HSBC at the time was Stephen Green. He gave up being chairman of the bank in December 2010, in order to become a Conservative peer and minister of state for trade and investment in January 2011. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
Four: Lord Green told Panorama: “As a matter of principle I will not comment on the business of HSBC past or present.” Honour amongst thieves?
Five: Add it all together and we can see that the Coalition government has not only allowed rich HSBC clients to steal money from the UK economy, but has actually colluded in it and rewarded the man in charge of the operation with a peerage and a cushy government job! All in it together, eh?
How unfortunate for the Tories that this has come out just 12 weeks before a general election!
Of course the Labour Party is all over this like a rash. Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury Cathy Jamieson said: “Tax avoidance and evasion harms every taxpayer in Britain, and undermines public services like the NHS.”
She said George Osborne needs to explain why just one person out of more than 1,000 has been prosecuted in five years, and how the then-chairman of HSBC, Stephen Green, could have been appointed a Conservative peer and a Minister by David Cameron just eight months after the Government was made aware of these activities taking place on his watch at HSBC.
“Once again the Tories have been exposed as unable and unwilling to take real action on tax avoidance – little wonder that under them the tax gap has risen, year on year,” was her judgement.
Richard Brooks, author of The Great Tax Robbery (Oneworld, 2013), knows a thing or two about tax avoidance and evasion. He summed up the Coalition government’s collusion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, referring to an agreement between the UK and Swiss governments, signed in 2007, to bring in “billions of pounds” in unpaid tax.
He said: “David Gauke, Tax Minister, and David Hartnett the senior tax official, started negotiating it straight after they’d received this data from the French authorities, so they knew that there was a mass of evidence of tax evasion at the heart of HSBC.
“They set about negotiating agreement with the Swiss Government which says… that ‘it is highly unlikely to be in the public interest of the United Kingdom that professional advisors, Swiss paying agents and their employees – in other words bankers – will be subject to a criminal investigation by HMRC.’
“So, knowing they’re sitting on all this evidence, they’ve simply washed their hands of it and said ‘we’re not going to prosecute’. And that’s why no-one has come before the courts in five years.”
And yet the Conservative Party is still considered best-able to run the economy.
Admittedly, with only 33 per cent support, more than two-thirds of the country don’t consider the Tories able to run anything at all, but it’s still more support than the other parties are getting.
They are letting rich people walk off with money that belongs in the Treasury and should be spent on public services.
It all goes to show that you should never – never – allow the Conservative Party to handle public money.
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