HSBC Swiss tax row heats up as MPs and officials exchange blows

11th February 2015

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The row over HSBC’s Swiss bank accounts heated up today with accusations flying between party leaders at Prime Minister’s Questions followed by an irate exchange between HM Revenue & Customs bosses and MPs in a select committee meeting this afternoon.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed at Prime Minister’s Questions over party donors from each side who are accused of being embroiled in the HSBC  Swiss bank account debacle after a list of individuals with accounts was published.

Cameron insisted that his Government had done more than any other to clamp down on tax evasion and tax avoidance

Miliband accused the Conservative leader of being a “dodgy prime minister surrounded by dodgy donors” while Cameron said Miliband was controlled by trade union financers and that the Labour government had been the “friend of the tax dodger”, according to the BBC.

This afternoon, Lin Homer, chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs, was grilled by furious MPs of the Public Accounts Committee about its role in the oversight of HSBC.

The committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge, accused Homer of a “pathetic response”, but the HMRC boss said it was “absolutely not the case” that the department had failed to take action against UK individuals with HSBC accounts in Geneva.

Homer insisted HMRC was “speedy and on the case”.

MPs demanded to know why there had been only one prosecution of an individual with a hidden Swiss account and Homer responded that most of the information passed on by the French authorities in 2010 concerning UK citizens was incomplete.

She said that of 3,600 UK cases, 3,200 individuals had been traced and of the 1,100 most serious cases, 130 were now outstanding. It has recovered £135m.

Homer said that  two-thirds of the total group of UK-based HSBC account holders “were found to be compliant” with tax rules, in some cases because they had non-dom status.

Holding a Swiss bank account is not illegal and does not prove either tax evasion or tax avoidance. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the individuals whose names have been published.

Labour has called for  Lord Green, the most senior figure at HSBC over the relevant period, and the Prime Minister to make a full statement about his role at the bank and his appointment as a government minister in 2011.

The Guardian newspaper claims that the Conservatives have raised more than £5m from HSBC clients with Swiss accounts, while Labour has received  cash and gifts in kind worth well over £500,000 as well as a loan for £2m.

The story involves over 106,000 clients with Swiss bank accounts from 203 countries with assets worth a total of $118bn. 7,000 UK clients held $21.7bn.

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