In his statement to the House on 11 April 2016, the former Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of a cross-agency taskforce to analyse all the information that had been made available from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)’s Panama Papers data leak. My Right Honourable Friend, the Home Secretary (Amber Rudd) and I now wish to update the house on the work of the Taskforce.
In its short existence, the Taskforce has added greatly to the UK’s understanding of the ever-more complex and contrived structures that are being developed to mask offshore tax evasion and economic crime. This intelligence will ensure that the UK remains uniquely placed to contribute to the international effort to uncover, and take action, on wrongdoing, regardless of how deeply hidden the arrangements are, as well as identify those jurisdictions where regulatory oversight requires improvement.
We can today report that the Taskforce has:
opened civil and criminal investigations into 22 individuals for suspected tax evasion
- led the international acquisition of high-quality, significant and credible data on offshore activity in Panama – ensuring the important work of the Taskforce was not delayed by the ICIJ’s refusal to release all of the information that it holds to any tax authority or law enforcement agency
- identified a number of leads relevant to a major insider-trading operation led by the Financial Conduct Authority and supported by the National Crime Agency
identified nine potential professional enablers of economic crime – all of whom have links with known criminals
placed 43 high net worth individuals under special review while their links to Panama are further investigated
identified two new UK properties and a number of companies relevant to a National Crime Agency financial sanctions enquiry
established links to eight active Serious Fraud Office investigations
identified 26 offshore companies whose beneficial ownership of UK property was previously concealed, and whose financial activity has been identified to the National Crime Agency as potentially suspicious
contacted 64 firms to determine their links with Mossack Fonseca to establish potential further avenues for investigation by the Taskforce
seen individuals coming forward to settle their affairs in advance of Taskforce partners taking action.
The Taskforce’s respective partners will engage the relevant prosecuting authorities to bring any identified wrongdoing before the courts.
The Government has also invested to develop its expertise in data and intelligence exploitation. This has ensured that Departments and agencies are well placed to forensically analyse massive-scale data of this kind, which are becoming ever-more frequently available.
The Taskforce has established a Joint Financial Analysis Centre (JFAC). Using the data and intelligence gathered from across the Taskforce, the JFAC has developed cutting-edge software tools and techniques, ensuring the Taskforce has access to the very best information from which to work.
The proactive acquisition of data, alongside the establishment of the JFAC, has enabled the Taskforce to identify a number of areas for further investigation across the full range of tax and economic crime, as well as links to organised crime, which will be the focus of its work over the coming months.
Taskforce members are present in Panama, using established relationships with the Panamanian authorities, and working with diplomatic colleagues, to offer support to analyse all the available data. Taskforce members have also worked with international partners as part of the Joint International Tax Shelter Information Centre to exchange information and intelligence as part of the wider international effort.
More generally, the Government has introduced tough new powers, increased penalties and game-changing measures to tackle offshore and onshore tax evasion. In the summer 2015 Budget, the Government gave HMRC an additional £800 million to invest in compliance and tax evasion work. This is expected to recover £7.2 billion in tax by the end of 2020/21. This includes tripling the number of criminal investigations that it undertakes into serious and complex tax crime, focusing particularly on wealthy individuals and companies. The aim is to increase prosecutions in this area to 100 a year, by the end of this Parliament.
The Government has also been pivotal in increasing global financial transparency in more than 100 countries, including British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, by automatically sharing offshore account data. This additional data will help identify and pursue the tiny minority of tax evaders still hiding their money offshore.
The Government aims to make the UK a more hostile place for those seeking to move, hide or use the proceeds of crime or corruption. In October 2015, the Government published the National Risk Assessment for Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing to better understand the risks and vulnerabilities for the UK. The Action Plan, published in April 2016, and the Criminal Finances Bill, introduced to Parliament in September, will significantly improve our capabilities to tackle money laundering and recover the proceeds of crime, including proceeds of corruption.
The London Anti-Corruption Summit earlier this year brought more than 40 countries together and resulted in a commitment to more than 600 actions. Since then, the UK has made real progress on its own commitments – our public register of beneficial ownership information is now live, the first G20 country to do so; and the National Crime Agency is working to get the new International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre operational by next April.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords