British minister pledges new criminal offence for those aiding tax evasion

LONDON, (Reuters) – A new criminal offence should be introduced to clamp down on tax evasion, a senior figure in Britain’s finance ministry said yesterday in the wake of a scandal surrounding HSBC.

Allegations that HSBC’s Swiss private bank helped clients evade tax has pushed the issue to the fore of political debate in Britain less than three months before a national election.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a member of junior coalition partner the Liberal Democrats, said the new offence of corporate failure to prevent economic crime would include aiding or facilitating tax evasion. Those who help others commit tax evasion will face the same financial penalty as the evaders themselves.

He hoped the new measures would be introduced before the May 7 election but if not they would be part of his party’s manifesto, he said.

Tax evasion is already illegal in Britain but the new law would make it explicit that those assisting tax evaders would also be open to punishment. Tax avoidance is not illegal.

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