International

Countries coordinate tax evasion probe

File - In this Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 file photo, a pigeon rests near a building hosting offices of Credit Suisse bank in Milan, Italy. (AP Photo/ Antonio Calanni)

GENEVA: Authorities in a number of countries, from the Netherlands to Australia, carried out raids and investigations into dozens of people suspected of tax evasion involving an unidentified Swiss bank. A major Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, issued a brief statement Friday saying that local authorities had visited its offices in Amsterdam, Paris and London in connection with unspecified client tax issues.

However, neither the bank nor authorities officially linked the two instances in their statements.

The Dutch national tax administration said in a statement that it suspected that several million euros worth of funds had been hidden from authorities. It said related investigations were under way in Britain, Australia, Germany and France.

In searches Thursday, the tax administration statement said, authorities detained two suspects and seized a gold bar, luxury cars, dozens of paintings, real estate, jewelry and bank accounts, as well as data from thousands of account holders. Dutch authorities said more actions will be carried out in the coming weeks.

Credit Suisse said only that its offices in London, Paris and Amsterdam had received “visits” by local authorities in connection with unspecified client tax issues.

It emphasized its “strategy of full client tax compliance,” and noted a program of automatic information exchange with European countries will begin in April. Credit Suisse spokeswoman Anna Sexton declined to comment further.

Swiss banks have long been a focus of international efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance. Switzerland changed its rules on banking secrecy for foreigners after a U.S. led effort to crack down on tax cheats uncovered large-scale evasion assisted by Swiss banks.

In December, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force said Switzerland had achieved “good results” in fighting money laundering and terrorism financing, but called on it to strengthen its compliance controls, boost scrutiny on the use of cash, and share information more with foreign authorities.

The Dutch authorities said in their statement that “fraud can undermine the tax system,” and tax evasion “disrupts society.” They said current technology, greater international cooperation and the lifting of bank secrecy are making it easier for authorities to find tax evaders and their money. They said international cooperation is important in this case and tax fraud investigations more broadly because tax evaders take their money abroad.

Dutch officials said the seizure included data from thousands of account holders, and that raids were conducted in The Hague, Hoofddorp, Zwolle and Venlo.

Dutch authorities are working with the EU’s justice agency, Eurojust, on the investigation. Eurojust declined immediate comment.

British tax authorities, meanwhile, said they launched a criminal investigation into suspected tax evasion “by a global financial institution and certain of its employees.”

Like the Dutch officials, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs service didn’t identify the institution. The first phase of the investigation, which will include further actions in coming weeks, is focused on senior employees of the firm and a number of customers, HMRC said in a statement.

“The international reach of this investigation sends a clear message that there is no hiding place for those seeking to evade tax,” the agency said.

Authorities in Australia said they were investigating 346 Australians with links to Swiss banking relationship managers who are alleged to have “promoted and facilitated tax evasion schemes.”

Kelly O’Dwyer, the country’s minister for revenue and financial services, said the investigation showed that the Australians identified hold numbered accounts with a Swiss bank. “The fact that these accounts are unnamed means that by their very nature they are likely to have been established to hide the identity of the owner,” O’Dwyer said in a statement.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 01, 2017, on page 5.

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