Tackling tax crime 'has never been a priority for Irish Government'

Tackling tax crime 'has never been a priority for Irish Government'

The State lacks both the resources and the political will to investigate tax evasion, Transparency International Ireland said today.

Some 300 Irish companies have been named in the so-called ‘Panama Papers’ - which have exposed instances of tax avoidance and the widespread concealment of assets in offshore accounts and shell companies.

“White-collar crime has never been a priority for Government, it hadn’t even appeared on the National Policing Plan until recently,” said CEO of Transparency International Ireland John Devitt.

“We would be urging the new Government, and those parties that are negotiating the new Government, to put this firmly on the Programme for Government for the coming few years.”

Over 10 years ago, the New York Times called Ireland the “Wild West of European finance” for its soft-touch on regulation, and this has led to an unwanted reputation, according to Mr Devitt.

“Largely because of the regulator’s hands-off approach that Ireland was seen as an attractive place for people who might otherwise go to somewhere like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands and invest sometimes ill-gotten gains,” he said.

Although much of what has been revealed in the Panama Papers is perfectly legal, many have questioned the standard of ethics involved.

“The question has to be asked: ‘Why would you want to force money offshore?’,” said Mr Devitt.

“The bulk of these transactions don’t involve currency hedging or exchange rate investments – they involve the movement of money to avoid tax or to evade tax, and very often involve the laundering or depositing of funds that could be used to pay off politicians, or the proceeds of corruption or organised crime.”

Revenue said however that it is aware of the allegations, it has always been at the forefront of investigating offshore assets, and that the number of companies named in the Panama Papers is small enough to investigate.

In addition, the Director of Corporate Enforcement, who previously complained of a lack of forensic accountants to investigate corporate crimes, has said that it is about to fill up to seven such roles.

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