LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s government will consider introducing a law which would punish banks and accountants for helping people evade tax in the wake of the HSBC SwissLeaks claims, a minister said Sunday.
Danny Alexander, the number two to finance minister George Osborne, said that, if the law was passed, those found guilty would face criminal and financial penalties.
Allegations that London-based HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped clients in more than 200 countries dodge taxes on accounts containing 180 billion euros ($204 billion) have caused a political storm in Britain before a tightly-fought general election in May.
Alexander’s centrist Liberal Democrats are currently part of a coalition government with Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservative party.
“We should create a new offence of corporate failure to avoid preventing an economic crime, and also the organisations who facilitate evasion or who encourage evasion should face the same level of financial penalty as the evaders themselves,” Alexander told BBC television.
With just over a month before parliament is dissolved ahead of the election, Alexander said he would pursue the idea in government “over the next few weeks”.
He suggested there could be time to introduce new measures in the government’s final budget on March 18.
Whatever happens, the idea will feature in the Liberal Democrats’ election manifesto ahead of the May 7 vote, he added.
Opinion polls indicate that neither the Conservatives nor the main opposition Labour party will win a clear majority in the election.