Government warned tax evasion clampdown may hit the innocent

Charlotte Henry
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CITY firms and business groups warned yesterday that the government’s proposed new tax evasion measures could criminalise innocent firms or individuals.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander laid out a variety of new rules yesterday morning.

There will be a new offence of strict liability, so pleading ignorance is no longer an excuse. This “will bring an end to the defence of, ‘I knew nothing – it was my accountant, m’lord’”, said Alexander in Parliament.

Firms that fail to stop evasion may also fall foul of the new laws.

Big four accountancy giant PwC said it supported the sentiment behind the move, but also raised concerns. PwC’s Simon Wilks said: “Introducing a lower burden of proof to prosecute offshore evasion risks bringing criminal charges to people whose biggest crime has been not to understand their obligations.”

Patrick Stevens from the Chartered Institute of Taxation said the coalition is right to target tax evasion, but added: “New measures should be based on sound legal principles. One of these is that in order to make a criminal conviction it should generally be required to show that the act was committed with criminal intent.”

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