HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has suggested it is not pursuing criminal cases against rich celebrities, instead focusing on securing big settlements.
According to a report in The Times, Richard Las, deputy director of HMRC, told an economic crime conference in Cambridge, HMRC does not use ‘criminal justice’ as its default option but instead uses this power only when ‘it will have the greatest effect’.
Las suggested HMRC does not generally use criminal trials against celebrities because they will want to avoid these at all costs, and suggested HMRC will instead seek settlements.
‘When deciding whether to deploy our resources, we try to understand what motivates different types of offenders. For example, some tax offenders are very wealthy, prominent members of the community,’ Las said, according to The Times.
‘We know that these types of people do not want the reputational damage of custodial sentences, and we can use that to our advantage.’
MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, told The Times the comments suggest the rich are getting off with tax cheating.
‘This raises questions over the public’s equality under the law. Just because you have highly paid tax advisers, you must not be seen to be getting away with it,’ she said.
Celebrities have been involved in a number of high-profile tax cases with HMRC in recent months, but criminal cases are very rarely brought against celebrities. This contrasts with other countries, such as Spain, where leading footballers have faced suspended custodial sentences over their tax affairs.
News of the comments from HMRC follows an investigation by BuzzFeed earlier this year, which found the Revenue did not help French authorities with an investigation into suspected money laundering by UK telecoms giant Lycamobile, citing the fact the company is a big donor to the Conservative Party.
An HMRC spokesman said: ‘HMRC does not do deals nor are we soft on the wealthy. Everyone must pay their fair share of tax, regardless of wealth and status – no one is above the law. We do not take an individual’s wealth or background into account deciding whether to pass a criminal investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.’