Tax office posts pictures of 32 cheats, from cigarette smugglers to advisers working for rich clients
A rogues’ gallery of Britain’s top tax criminals of 2012, ranging from cigarette and alcohol smugglers to professionals who set up complex avoidance schemes for the rich, has been published online for the first time by HM Revenue & Customs.
HMRC posted pictures of the 32 tax cheats, who were last year sentenced to a total of 155 years and 10 months behind bars, on the image hosting site Flickr.
They include four men jailed for a total of 21 years and three months for one of the biggest alcohol smuggling frauds uncovered in the UK, worth £50m a year.
Among the named and shamed are a garlic importer, platinum traders, dealers in bogus carbon credits and sophisticated carousel fraudsters who obtained VAT rebates worth millions on mobile phones.
Only one of the top tax criminals was a professional tax adviser: Roy Faichney of Pinner in Middlesex. He helped operate a fraudulent £70m tax avoidance scheme sold to wealthy customers, but was jailed in October for four years.
David Gauke, the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said: “We hope publishing these pictures will help get across that it always makes sense to declare all your income, and tax dodgers are simply storing up trouble for the future.
“Most people play by the rules and pay what they owe, but HMRC is cracking down on those who don’t.”
An FBI-style list of Britain’s “most wanted” tax fugitives who owe HMRC more than £700m has already received 660,000 hits since HMRC published it on Flickr in July.
The moves are part of a £1bn government crackdown on tax evasion. But campaigners said that while “common criminals” were being named and shamed by HMRC, holders of multimillion-pound Swiss bank accounts who had been found evading tax had been given guarantees of anonymity and immunity from prosecution.
Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, who has led campaigns against corporate tax avoidance by multinationals, said: “I’m delighted that HMRC is tackling the common criminals. But these are the people on the fringes … When is HMRC going to go after the billions held in Switzerland?
“They know who they are, they know the level of tax fraud, but they are guaranteed anonymity and non-prosecution under the Liechtenstein disclosure facility.
“The truth is that ‘nice’ people don’t get their pictures shown in the press or posted over the internet. There’s an implicit snobbery in this exercise: it’s class-based and about pursuing the smaller person while ignoring the organised tax avoidance of the banking industry.”
But other experts said the risk of being publicly named and shamed was having an impact on the wealthy and corporations.
Phil Berwick, a partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “We have seen a lot of people come forward under the Liechtenstein facility. The potential for having their photo published in this way if they don’t come forward is having a real deterrent effect. It is flushing out people who voluntarily want to be compliant and bringing substantial amounts to the exchequer at very little cost.”
Gary Ashford of RSM Tenon, a global accounting firm, said he expected future name-and-shame lists to include those masking their wealth in offshore accounts. “We are seeing a lot of activity by HMRC around offshore accounts, although in terms of pictures, you’re not seeing it yet. We could well be seeing more people prosecuted and pictured in this way,” he said.
David Cameron said last week that a crackdown on international tax evasion would be one of the top priorities of the UK’s leadership of the G8 group of richest nations this year.
But critics argue depleted resources at HMRC will make the crackdown impossible.
Murphy said: “There are simply not enough people left to tackle the problem and there’s a lack of political will. Osborne’s only strategy for the UK is to be open to business – open for the business of tax avoidance.”
YesterdayOn Friday the prime minister said foreign companies such as Starbucks and Amazon that had avoided large corporation tax bills lacked “moral scruples” and vowed to make “damn sure” they paid their fair share.
Top Tax Cheats of 2012
Scheme: Lorry loads of branded beer, wine and spirits smuggled from France to warehouses on the Essex coast, masterminded by Burrage.
Tax at stake: £50m a year in unpaid duty and VAT
Jail terms Burrage received 10 years, with the gang members sentenced to 21 years 3 months in total
Scheme The gang set up a chain of bogus companies to trade fraudulently in EU emissions allowances – known as carbon credits.
Tax at stake £38m in VAT
Jail terms Dosanjh received 15 years, Gill 11 years and Chahal 9 years
Scheme Importing platinum ingots from Italy and selling them on without paying VAT
Tax at stake £4.5m in VAT
Jail terms A total of 22 years and six months, but Bowden absconded and remains at large.
Scheme The gang described over 20m cigarettes on shipping documents as babies’ toys, smuggling them from Dubai to a warehouse in Upminster, Essex.
Tax at stake £3.3m in duty
Jail terms 24 years 6 months
Name Murugasan Natarajan
Scheme Claimed to be importing ginger but was in fact importing garlic.
Tax at stake £2m in customs duty
Jail term 6 years
Name Roy Faichney
Scheme A professional tax adviser working for Vantis Tax Ltd, which, according to the judge, “callously abused a tax relief designed to benefit charities”.
Tax at stake £70m in tax reliefs
Jail term 4 years
Scheme Claimed to have sold 4m mobile phones worth £1.7bn to reclaim large amounts of VAT.
Tax at stake £285m from fraudulent VAT repayments.
Jail terms The four were jailed for a total of 10 years and six months but the ringleader, sentenced in 2011, got 17 years.
Scheme Set up a factory in Derbyshire potentially capable of making up to 625m counterfeit cigarettes
Tax at stake £131m in cigarette duty if the plot had not been foiled.
Jail terms 13 years and one month in total
Scheme Smuggling 24m counterfeit cigarettes into the Midlands
Tax at stake £4m in cigarette duty
Jail terms 10 years in total
Name Chaudray Ali
Scheme A jeweller who smuggled gold bought in Dubai through Frankfurt to London.
Tax at stake £7m
Jail term Nine years