Chancellor tells MPs another 43 wealthy individuals are under review as a result of inquiries following Mossack Fonseca leak
Twenty-two people face civil and criminal investigations into suspected tax evasion following the disclosure of the Panama Papers, the chancellor has told MPs.
Philip Hammond also said a further 43 wealthy individuals were under review while their links to the offshore files were investigated further. He made the comments in a written answer to the House of Commons explaining what had happened since the offshore tax files emerged.
In April, David Cameron announced the creation of a cross-agency taskforce to analyse all the information available from the Panama Papers, a series of articles in the Guardian and other international newspapers based on a huge leak of documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Hammond told the house on Tuesday that the taskforce had “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”.
He said some people had approached the tax authorities to settle their affairs before action was taken.
Links had been established to eight active Serious Fraud Office inquiries, he said, and several law enforcement authorities were involved in the wider investigation, including the Financial Conduct Authority and the National Crime Agency.
The NCA had identified 26 offshore companies whose beneficial ownership of UK property was previously concealed and whose financial activity had been identified as “potentially suspicious”. A further two properties and a number of companies relevant to an NCA financial sanctions inquiry had also been identified. In another joint investigation with the FCA, the NCA had identified a number of leads relevant to a major insider-trading operation.
The Guardian’s reporting of the Panama Papers revealed that lawyers and accountants in the UK were working with Mossack Fonseca clients. Hammond said on Tuesday that the taskforce had identified nine potential “professional enablers” of economic crime, all of whom had links with known criminals. The taskforce had contacted a further 64 firms to determine their links with Mossack Fonseca, and this was expected to establish potential further avenues for investigation, he said.
HMRC’s director general for customer compliance, Jennie Granger, said: “The net is closing in on tax evasion and economic crime and there are no safe havens for hiding money offshore. The vast majority of individuals and businesses pay their fair share and it’s on their behalf that the taskforce has made so much progress on so many fronts.”
HMRC declined to comment on whether it had obtained the entirety of the Panama Papers leak, which totalled more than 11.5m files and 2.5 terabytes of data. However, the Danish government paid up to £1m to acquire some or all of the data earlier this year and international tax authorities have been known to share information on possible tax abuse in the past.
A HMRC spokesperson said: “For operational reasons, we do not disclose how we acquire our data. We will continue to work with our international partners, and law enforcement agencies, to obtain any further relevant information that enables us to crack down on tax avoidance, evasion and economic crime.”
Rob Palmer, the campaign leader on money laundering at the anti-corruption organisation Global Witness, said specific references to “enablers of economic crime” represented a more aggressive stance on criminal finance than had previously been exhibited by the government.
“From our perspective, it’s really important that you go after the pinstripe army of bankers, accountants and lawyers that make all of this stuff possible,” he said.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “The fact that the government have 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.
“The Tories are clearly trying to hide that they have been dragging their feet on this issue for six years now, and on the same day they have been caught trying to stop tax havens from being blacklisted by the EU, no one will be convinced by their lacklustre attempts at clamping down on those that use them.”