Tag Archives: Richard Brooks

HSBC – the tax-dodging bank with a Tory chairman

Another Tory crook?

Another Tory crook?

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.

Why?

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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How much of the national debt has been faked by tax dodgers?

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.

If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.

The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.

Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.

Now it seems the government is also being deprived of badly-needed tax money because of the way large firms are structuring their pay packets – to the disadvantage of low-paid workers. The details were in Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, Secrets of Your Pay Packet, broadcast on October 21.

With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?

Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.

Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).

Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.

If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.

The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.

This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.

Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).

It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.

That is not what we see.

We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).

We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.

And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.

The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.

In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.

Are you angry yet?