27 cases involving the UK’s biggest businesses (top 2,0000 companies) were referred for investigation for possible ‘serious’ tax evasion by HMRC in the last year, says Pinsent Masons, the international law firm.
The law firm says that if the numbers, based on a disclosure from HMRC, are correct then it will come as a major surprise as big businesses have been under such intense pressure over the last decade to avoid legal tax avoidance, let alone be tempted into illegal tax evasion.
Jason Collins, Partner at Pinsent Masons, says: “These are very high figures of suspected tax evasion amongst the biggest companies in the UK. However, HMRC suspecting serious tax evasion has taken place is not the same as it actually having occurred.”
“Our view is that no board and no Head of Tax would allow even the hint of tax evasion at their company. But, without proper controls, there is always the risk of a member of staff going rogue.”
The new corporate criminal offence of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 means that big businesses can be held criminally liable if they fail to prevent their employees, agents, or others who provide services on their behalf from criminally facilitating tax evasion, including potentially the group’s own taxes.
Pinsent Masons adds that recent tax evasion cases involving both UK and European large companies have been largely restricted to the financial services and professional services sector – for example, private bankers helping facilitate evasion by their clients. Outside of the UK a European energy company has recently been accused of evading tax by miss recording sales of certain products.