LONDON, Feb 25 (Reuters) – Britain and the Netherlands joined a European effort to crack down on tax evasion on Monday, allying themselves with Germany in seeking information on those with secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein.
Britain’s tax agency said it had followed Germany’s lead and paid a whistleblower to get hold of secret data on British citizens with accounts in the landlocked tax haven.
The Dutch finance ministry urged citizens who evade tax by putting their money in Liechtenstein bank accounts to turn themselves in or risk paying large fines.
Germany has led efforts to stymie Liechtenstein-based tax evasion, targeting 1,000 wealthy people suspected of parking money in the principality’s banks. Liechtenstein has accused Germany of illegally acquiring the secret data.
Britain’s tax agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), confirmed it had paid for data on bank accounts held by Britons in Liechtenstein and that it was seeking to recover at least 100 million pounds ($196 million) in unpaid taxes.
“It should now be clear to everyone that that there is no safe hiding place for the proceeds of tax evasion,” HMRC’s acting Chairman Dave Hartnett said in a statement, urging people with hidden income to tell the tax agency about it quickly.
He called for Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) standards on transparency and exchange of information on tax matters to be fully implemented.
Liechtenstein is one of three countries on the OECD’s tax-haven blacklist, alongside Andorra and Monaco. Media reports said Britain paid the whistleblower 100,000 pounds for details on the accounts of 100 wealthy Britons.
For its part, the Netherlands said it was expecting Germany to furnish it with information on any Dutch citizens listed in the records purchased from the Liechtenstein informant.
“We don’t know yet, we haven’t heard that there are Dutch citizens on the list, but it is possible,” state secretary of finance, Jan Kees de Jager, told Dutch television.
“People can turn themselves in if they have not been questioned by authorities yet and get favourable provisions.”
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Liechtenstein, which has about 160 billion Swiss francs ($150 billion) of assets under management, has condemned Germany’s initiative and accused it of breaking the law by buying information from someone it views as a criminal.
Germany’s move has, though, shaken up European authorities and given other countries in the region with secretive banking laws pause for thought.
Germany’s finance minister, Peer Steinbrueck, has pledged to broaden the quest for hidden cash to include Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria, all of which have banking secrecy rules.
German police have used the whistleblower’s information to raid homes and offices across the country, so far targeting about 1,000 people in a probe that has lead to the resignation of the chief executive of Deutsche Post <DPWGn.DE>.
Switzerland’s finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz, shrugged off any potential problems for his country, where trillions of dollars of offshore savings are based.
“I fail to see how problems for Switzerland could arise,” he told DRS-1 radio at the weekend. “This is about Liechtenstein.”
“Switzerland is not a tax haven according to OECD criteria. There is a blacklist and Switzerland is not on it.”
Luxembourg, home to a huge asset management industry and a slew of private banks, also distanced itself from the affair saying it didn’t consider itself a tax haven.
Britain’s move was unexpected as two years ago it had refused to pay the whistleblower for information, the Financial Times reported. Its attitude changed after Germany paid a reported 4.2 million euros ($6.22 million) for the data.
The informant is believed to be a former employee of LGT, a private bank owned by Liechtenstein’s royal family.
A senior U.S. lawmaker said last week he would launch an investigation into U.S. citizens who hid assets at LGT.