Tax Scams

In Britain, you’re better off being a celebrity tax dodger than a criminal one

January 4, 2013
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January 4, 2013
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No regrets for Robbie Williams when it comes to his tax burden(AP Images / Joerg Sarbach)

In an ongoing effort to crack down on tax evasion, the UK government today published a Flickr page of the “top tax cheats” of 2012. The profiles break down the crimes of 32 criminals that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) sentenced to a combined total of more than 150 years in prison last year in a demonstration of the government’s commitment to punishing tax evaders, said Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke in a statement. “We hope that publishing these pictures will help get across that it always makes sense to declare all your income, and tax dodgers are simply storing up trouble for the future,” he added.

For Robert Doran and his smuggling gang, “trouble for the future” amounted to 24 years, after authorities caught them claiming infant toy imports as a cover for 20 million cigarettes, skirting an estimated £3.3 million ($5.2 million) in customs duties. Not all of the criminals have been caught, though, including Murugasan Natarajan, who was sentenced to six years for failing to pay around £2 million in customs duty on Chinese garlic.

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They dodged £38m in carbon-credit taxes—before the HMRC’s Operation Tulipbox brought them down(HM Revenue & Customs)

But it’s a whole different ballgame, it seems, for the wealthy and well connected. Just after Christmas, the HMRC offered to settle tax debts accumulated by a number of UK bankers, hedge fund managers and celebrities via tax-avoidance schemes that sheltered around £3.5 billion. Those named by the Guardian for participating in “tax-efficient film partnership schemes,” which permit deferral of taxes on investment income, include football stars Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, vacuum tycoon James Dyson, and pop stars Peter Gabriel and Robbie Williams.

Of course, the impetus behind both the name and shame campaign and the celebrity settlement offer is to drum up revenue that the UK desperately needs as it faces the prospect of more austerity. In this it has so far proven successful, generating some £3 billion in 2011 by slashing 90% of the penalty rate for 1,200 Brits dodging taxes through offshore accounts.

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