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'You guys don't seem to like prosecuting people very much': Revenue told

Some 358 Irish-linked accounts were revealed in leaked details of HSBC’s Swiss operations.

Image: Nina J. G.

THE ONLY THREE people successfully prosecuted for evading tax using secretive Swiss HSBC bank accounts received fines worth a maximum €25,000 for their offences.

The Revenue Commissioners were today accused of being reluctant to bring tax dodgers before the courts over the millions in funds illicitly kept in the offshore accounts.

In 2010 French authorities handed Revenue a disk containing leaked details of 358 personal and corporate account holders with Irish links and funds worth up to $6.8 billion (€6.4 billion at current rates) with HSBC in Switzerland.

But the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee was told Revenue found many of the accounts were legal or belonged to non-residents and only 33 cases were worth investigating.

New Revenue chairman Niall Cody said those probes had so far yielded about €4.5 million in back taxes, interest and penalties.

Revenue Source: Revenue Commissioners

Four cases made it to the stage of criminal prosecution with one of those accused still before the courts. The other three charged pleaded guilty to various offences and received fines of between €4,000 and €25,000.

HSBC Switzerland was not a destination of choice for Irish tax evaders,” Cody said.

PAC . Pictured Revenue Chairman Mr Nia Revenue Chairman Niall Cody outside Leinster House today Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

‘You don’t like prosecuting people’

Independent TD Shane Ross said Revenue didn’t have a good record of bringing tax evaders to court after no Ansbacher account holders were charged over that scandal.

You guys don’t seem to like prosecuting people very much,” he said.

Ross Independent TD Shane Ross Source: Oireachtas.ie

However Cody said only Ireland and the UK had brought any prosecutions over the Swiss HSBC accounts, and he believed they had been thoroughly investigated.

He said Revenue had been aware before 2010 from other investigations that Irish residents were using Swiss accounts to avoid taxes but when they asked that country’s authorities for help they “politely declined”.

HSBC’s London head office also sent a letter to the committee which said “a representative (was) not available” for today’s public hearing.

Newspaper ads for ‘burying money’

The committee also heard that at the same time Revenue was investigating residents’ tax dodging through offshore accounts in the Isle of Man and Jersey in 2009 a Swiss bank – not HSBC – was buying prime advertising space in The Irish Times to publicise its secretive services.

“There was actually an expensive ad in which they were saying ‘do you want to lodge your money offshore with us’, more or less,” Cody said.

Cody Source: Oireachtas.ie

They didn’t mention tax evasion, they didn’t give any kind of (advice) that there was anything untoward about it but they did emphasise the bank’s secrecy in Switzerland.”

Cody agreed it was an “absolutely an ad saying come and bury your money with us” and said Revenue had used it as part of a 2009 application for a High Court order to force banks to hand over account details.

Earlier this year the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in conjunction with media outlets including The Irish Times, published leaked details of thousands of secret HSBC Swiss bank account holders.

They included celebrities, politicians and criminals among other public figures.

First published 1.07pm

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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