A taxing matter for tax evaders

Is it a sign of the increasingly worrisome state of UK public finances (now that Northern Rock is officially on the books) that has driven the government to buy information from a whistleblower in Lichtenstein?

The UK's tax collection agency has reportedly given a former employee of LGT bank a hundred thousand pounds for information on accounts held by UK citizens.

Tax evasion is a crime; no doubt. But there is something a little grubby about the idea of governments consorting with individuals willing to sell confidential company information. And for what has the government enveloped itself in this ethically ambiguous state? A 100 names. Just a 100 names.

The tax authorities no doubt believe it sends a bigger message to other tax evaders that their freedom from scrutiny is not guaranteed. I suspect it will more likely damage Lichtenstein's reputation for banking secrecy to the advantage of other offshore centers.

This is a grubby business and the UK government has set an unwelcome precedent, apparently encouraging disgruntled or greedy employees to breach corporate confidentiality.

There is of course another way to look at this story: tax reform.

Could it encourage at least someone in the British government to revisit the question of why so many consider it worth the risk of discovery to conceal money offshore!

The combination of income and consumption taxes in the UK cut deep. Successive governments have balked at addressing a complicated and unwieldy tax system. Low tax regimes appear to see less abuse and consequently higher levels of collection.

Tax avoidance (which is legal) is a national sport in many European countries - and drives a multi-million euro industry in tax advice. Many companies and wealthy individuals spend heavily on complicated legal structures to lawfully reduce the duties they pay.

A more fundamental root and branch reform of the tax system might just make some of that infrastructure redundant and lead to a higher tax take.

Now that would be worth paying a hundred thousand pounds for.......

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