22 face tax evasion probe in UK after examination of Panama Papers

22 face tax evasion probe in UK after examination of Panama Papers

Twenty-two people are under investigation for suspected tax evasion following an examination of the Panama Papers by a UK Government taskforce, Philip Hammond has said.

The Chancellor also told MPs the taskforce has identified nine "potential professional enablers of economic crime" with links to known criminals, and found "a number of leads" relevant to a Financial Conduct Authority-led operation into insider trading.

Links to eight ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigations have been established, 43 wealthy people are under "special review" while their links to Panama are further investigated, and 64 firms have been contacted to determine their links with Mossack Fonseca, Mr Hammond added.

He said other matters identified by the taskforce include referring 26 offshore companies to the National Crime Agency (NCA) for "potentially suspicious" financial activity, with the firms having previously "concealed" beneficial ownership of UK property.

Mr Hammond said other people have also come forward to "settle their affairs in advance of taskforce partners taking action".

Further investigation into areas including links to organised crime will take place in the coming months, the Cabinet minister added.

The £10 million taskforce, led by HM Revenue and Customs and the NCA, was established by former prime minister David Cameron to investigate allegations of tax-dodging linked to the leak of millions of documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Mr Cameron's personal finances came under scrutiny and he later admitted he handled the row over his profits from an offshore fund badly.

But he added the way the fund was set up offshore by his father Ian Cameron amounted to "entirely standard practice" and was not to avoid tax.

MPs have voiced concerns about the taskforce being unable to get its hands on the relevant documents from journalists, with the Government previously noting it faced "logistical barriers".

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Hammond said: "In its short existence, the taskforce has added greatly to the UK's understanding of the ever more complex and contrived structures that are being developed to mask offshore tax evasion and economic crime.

"This intelligence will ensure that the UK remains uniquely placed to contribute to the international effort to uncover, and take action on, wrongdoing, regardless of how deeply hidden the arrangements are, as well as identify those jurisdictions where regulatory oversight requires improvement.

"We can today report that the taskforce has opened civil and criminal investigations into 22 individuals for suspected tax evasion."

Mr Hammond listed the further work, telling MPs: "The taskforce's respective partners will engage the relevant prosecuting authorities to bring any identified wrongdoing before the courts."

He added: "Taskforce members are present in Panama, using established relationships with the Panamanian authorities, and working with diplomatic colleagues, to offer support to analyse all the available data."

Shadow treasury minister Rebecca Long-Bailey said: "The fact that the Government has sneaked this out in a written statement just before recess probably says all you need to know about how seriously they are really taking the issue of tackling tax avoidance.

"And you can see why they are trying to hide this statement, when you consider that back in April they claimed they were looking into 700 leads but today they are saying they're only investigating 22 individuals - that is a 3% rate of following down these leads."

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