Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tax twang: Tax avoiders and evaders to be exposed on Wikileaks

The papers are reporting that Rudolf Elmer, a former executive at Bank Julius Baer, yesterday handed over a CD listing the details of 2,000 allegedly tax dodging individuals and firms to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Assange said he could publish the data within two weeks.

According to media reports Elmer was, until 2002, chief operating officer of the bank in the Cayman Islands. Bank Julius Baer is one of Switzerland’s top private banks and accuses Elmer of stealing the information he has now passed to Wikileaks.

As the Telegraph reports: Celebrities using tax avoidance schemes could be in the spotlight
Taking advantage of complex tax laws in order to reduce the individual burden is perfectly legal and has been standard practice among the super-rich for years.
Whilst that is true, I have mentioned on this TaxBuzz blog many times, that the dividing line between legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion is more blurred than some would have us believe.

Fancy tax avoidance schemes will often be determined as legal by top tax barristers. Such opinions will often be hedged with caveats but as long as all the related advice is followed to the letter, all should be well. By which I mean the rich taxpayer will have a strong defence and can claim to have stayed on the right side of the letter of the law. On the other side of the line we have blatant tax evaders. Contrary to the press stories implying that they are always rich, they operate at all levels of society. Tax evaders are those who fail to disclose all sources of taxable income, inflate their business expenses or otherwise pay less tax than is strictly due.

Rudolf Elmer's list apparently includes the names of celebrities and politicians from around the world. Many will be household names and, I've no doubt, many will be British. I suspect they will all be tarred with the same brush. Only they, their closest advisers and HMRC (the taxman) will know whether their deposits were the result of fancy tax schemes or the proceeds of blatant tax evasion.

Or does the list contain more extensive details of the "tax dodging individuals and firms"? Time will tell.

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