Britain nets 100-plus 'tax evaders' in international probe

LONDON (AFP) - Britain said on Friday that it had caught more than 100 people who have been hiding money in offshore tax havens following a wide-ranging investigation carried out with the US and Australian authorities.

The information came from a 400-gigabyte cache of data leaked to the authorities which shows the activities of trusts and companies in Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.

British finance minister George Osborne said that the information was highly significant.

"The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you," Mr Osborne said.

"This data is another weapon in (the British tax authorities') arsenal."

Britain has made the fight against tax evasion a key aim of its presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialised nations this year.

Britain's HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said in a statement it had "identified over 100 people who benefit from these structures and a number of those individuals had already been identified and are under investigation for offshore tax evasion".

Inspectors are also investigating more than 200 British accountants, investment advisers and lawyers who advise on setting up complex offshore structures designed to avoid tax.

They are working through the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pages of information and data.

Ms Jennie Granger, HMRC Revenue and Customs Commissioner, said that not all international tax structures were illegal and some may already have been declared to the authorities.

"However, they may involve tax evasion, avoidance or other serious offences by taxpayers. What has to stop is using offshore structures to illegally hide assets and income," she said.

Britain said last week that Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos, and other British overseas territories with extensive financial centres had signed agreements to share tax information in what the government hailed as a major victory in the battle against tax evasion.

Tax information-sharing agreements with Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man were also announced this year.

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