The lies, mis-statements and blatant evasions over the HSBC Swiss bank are beginning to build up. We were initially told that no Minister had any knowledge of wrongdoing at HSBC Suisse until this last week. This has now been contradicted by several different sources. Lin Homer, the besieged and rather ineffective head of HMRC, told the PAC select committee that officials would have told government Ministers within months of receiving the incriminating data from the French tax authorities. She said “We are confident we will have told Ministers that we were about to receive a big tranche of operation information”. Even more explicitly Dave Hartnett, the previous HMRC chief, told the Treasury select committee in September 2011 that “I think the whole nation probably knows that our department has a disc from the Swiss, from the Geneva branch of a major UK bank, with 6,000 names, all ripe for investigation”. So the statement that Ministers never knew anything about this enormous scandal until just a week ago, put out by Downing Street aides unquestionably with Ministerial approval, was a lie. The Minister who approved this statement should be made to resign.
Then there is the matter that it is inconceivable that Cameron didn’t know about the rampant tax evasion going on at the HSBC bank when he appointed Green, the head of HSBC at the time, as his Trade Minister in January 2011, 9 months after HMRC had received the HSBC files. Cameron was asked point-blank 4 times in the Commons yesterday what discussions he had had with Green at the time about tax avoidance at HSBC, and he ostentatiously refused to answer each time by talking about something else. No Minister should be allowed to blank out the truth about a matter of acute public concern.
Then there’s the scandal that the UK Government made clear on several occasions that they never wanted to touch this incriminating data in the first place. We now know that Herve’Falciani, the French IT expert at the bank, contacted the UK tax authorities as early as 2008 offering to pass over to them the tax evasion information, but the UK did not respond. In early 2010 the French tax authorities start telling other tax authorities around the world, including the UK, about the existence of these HSBC files. Then in February 2010 Dave Hartnett, head of tax at HMRC, meets with representatives from HSBC, but refuses to admit what was discussed – obviously the existence of these files and its implications. Then in July 2010 HSBC, tipped off by Hartnett, tries to use the French courts to stop the French tax authority handing the files to HMRC. Finally, in January 2013, 6 months after retiring from HMRC, Hartnett joins HSBC as a consultant! What does all that tell you about UK connivance in criminal tax evasion and avoidance?