2 August 2001 Edition
Soft landing for tax cheats
Crowe calls for tax cheats billions to be put in social investment fund
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
``Relentlessly pursuing and punishing tax evasion''' - This is the promise made by Dermot Quigley, chairperson of the 26-County Revenue Commissioners last week. Quigley was presenting Revenue's annual report for 2000. However, despite Quigley's promises it seems that an amnesty culture could still be skulking in the Irish taxation system.
The report shows a record £27.6 billion in taxes collected for the year. Quigley warned that with the economy slowing and the negative effects of Foot and Mouth the tax revenue for this year will be up to £500 million below Dublin government targets.
Among the record tax revenue for 2000 was £173.3 million collected from 37 Irish banks and financial institutions who had deliberately and systematically allowed their customers to avail of the tax free deposit accounts by pretending to be non resident in the 26 Counties.
The Revenue Commissioners estimate that between 25,000 and 50,000 individuals, companies and trusts made use of these bogus accounts. The Commissioners are now pursuing these individuals for their unpaid taxes racked up in the 1980s and `90s.
A special deal has been offered with a six-month period for offenders to make disclosures.
Those who make payment during this time period will have any interest or penalties due capped at 100% of the total tax amount owed. No names of the tax cheats will be published and no further inquiries or prosecutions will be made against them.
Sinn Féin's Seán Crowe told An Phoblacht, in a statement, that this while not being quite a full amnesty it was, ``still a remarkably good deal for the tax cheats''. Crowe said, ``The terms of this deal might not be as attractive as some of the previous arrangements, but people and companies who deliberately evaded tax when government spending on vital services such as health, education and housing were being slashed are now being given a very soft landing''.
So far only 70 individuals whom the Revenue Commissioners describe as ``concealing income'' have come forward. Collectively they have paid £7 million to Revenue Commissioners.
This suggests a huge sum in unpaid taxes could be coming into the state's coffers from the other 25,000 plus tax evaders. An Phoblacht contacted the Revenue Commissioners and asked them was it possible to estimate how much money this deal would bring into the exchequer.
The Commissioners spokesperson said it was ``impossible to estimate at this stage''. The spokesperson said that some tax experts and media commentators outside of the Revenue Commissioners have estimated that there is a possible nine times the £173 million raised from the banks to be brought in but that the Revenue Commissioners were making no projections on what the end figure would be.
Nine times what the banks have paid would total more than £1.5 billion. Seán Crowe has called for all of this money to be set out aside as a social investment fund that could be tapped into by the most economically marginalized communities in the 26 Counties who suffered most during the period of cutbacks and constrained government spending.
Crowe said, ``This money presents a great opportunity to redress the years of an inadequate health service, to invest in schools and better housing in areas of dire need. These funds must be seen to be additional to the current spending proposed for these areas''.
``If the Dublin government really want to convince the public that the old days of amnesties and double standards on tax are being left behind then they must make sure this tax fund is spent on those communities who suffered unduly when the tax cheats were defrauding the state. These were the people who could pay for healthcare, housing and private education, while those on welfare or low incomes had to make do with under funded and inadequate social services.''
The tax fraud does not stop there. The Revenue Commissioners also disclosed that the number of individuals, companies and trusts who were avoiding tax through the notorious Ansbacher accounts uncovered in the McCracken tribunal has grown from 120 to 500. To date only 40 of the account holders have come forward to begin the process of making payment and settling their outstanding tax liabilities.
Last year, the Revenue Commissioners prosecuted three cases of serious tax evasion, another four cases are going through the courts. Two people were convicted and are now in prison. If there are 50,000 tax cheats with bogus accounts it gives them a 25,000 to 1 chance of not being convicted and a 16,000 plus to 1 chance of not even being prosecuted.
Dermot Quigley told reporters last week: ``We will do whatever is necessary, including seeking the assistance of foreign tax administrations, to track down the bogus account holders- however long it takes. Bogus account holders would be very foolish not to make a voluntary disclosure by the 15 November deadline.''
Time will tell if the Revenue Commissioners can fully live up to their own promises. Their record to date is not so impressive.