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Global-scale tax probe has local reach

Three nations launch joint inquiry into evasion through offshore havens

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 4:25am

In possibly the biggest tax investigation in history, Britain, US and Australia have launched a joint global investigation into tax evasion through offshore havens, the governments of the three nations announced.

"It is certain Hong Kong and mainland individuals will feature in the information. It will be interesting to see the reactions of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities," said John Bruce, Macau director of Hill & Associates, a Hong Kong risk consultancy.

It is certain Hong Kong and mainland individuals will feature in the information. It will be interesting to see the reactions of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities
John Bruce, Macau director of Hill & Associates

Authorities in the three countries are investigating 400 gigabytes of data on companies and trusts in jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Cook Islands, said Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of Britain.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said the data included more than two million documents relating to thousands of people worldwide.

The data gained by the three governments includes information obtained by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in the biggest financial leak on offshore havens in history. The consortium's data indicates people setting up offshore entities live most often in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan.

Given President Xi Jinping's intention to stop the garnering of illicit wealth by corrupt officials, this came at a sensitive time, said Bruce. "One can only hope the information is freely shared with China. The investigations have huge ramifications."

The data might be shared with other tax administrations as part of the global fight against tax evasion, said HMRC. The US Internal Revenue Service said it was expected this international co-operation would allow many countries to enforce laws that might have been broken.

So far, HMRC has identified more than 100 people who used these offshore entities, some of whom are being investigated by the British government for offshore tax evasion, said HMRC.

More than 100 Australian taxpayers had been identified as being involved in "suspicious offshore arrangements", the ATO said.

Singaporean authorities are looking into whether any tax offences have been committed in Singapore, and have requested that data be shared with them.

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