Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has called on the treasury and HMRC to use new information made available by a Red-Green administration in Germany to clamp down on tax avoiders. The revenue service of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia recently forwarded electronic records of Swiss bank accounts to 27 countries in Europe, including the UK, for scrutiny and to help prosecute tax evaders. Controversially, the data was stolen and then purchased by the North Rhine-Westphalia authorities some years ago. It has already been used to net some €600 million in fines and penalties.
A large volume of data was sent to the UK Treasury and contained information on private individuals and corporations amounting to more than £7bn since 2006 [see table below]. Molly, who is Green spokesperson on tax affairs in the European Parliament, believes this is a demonstration of exactly the kind of cooperation needed to ensure taxes are paid. She said:
“While EU governments are keen to claim their support for tax co-operation and tax transparency this is often not followed through with action. This is what tax co-operation really looks like and it is clear that information provided to HM Treasury will facilitate their investigation of potential tax avoidance.”
In a letter to the Treasury, Molly has challenged the UK tax authorities to use the data, and says this will be a test of the Tories commitment on tackling tax avoidance:
“If the accounts exposed in this data have been used for tax avoidance purposes, we must see fines and sanctions follow. I have asked the Treasury to confirm they have received this data and asked how they intend to use it. This will be a real test of the government’s stated commitment to tackling tax avoidance.”
Minister for Finance for North Rhine-Westphalia, Norbert Walter-Borjans, informed 27 other countries of the account details, and made clear that sharing the data was the right thing to do. He said:
“The account details discovered by our tax investigators during their inquiries into a number of banks do not solely refer to German taxpayers. So it goes without saying that we ought to share the data with the other authorities. With tax evaders using international channels, why should the revenue services not cooperate across borders?”
Table of data by country