Saturday 15 December 2018

Taxman targets 300 of country’s top bankers

Emmet Oliver, Fionnan Sheahan and Aine Kerr

REVENUE Commissioners are investigating the tax affairs of 300 senior bank executives in a major crackdown on suspected evasion.

It has already clawed back €1.1m from investigations and expects to secure further income for the cash-strapped Exchequer.

The unprecedented trawl is focusing on top-level employees in the country’s six main banks, the Irish Independent has learned.

While not named directly by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the probe is concentrating on AIB, Bank of Ireland, Irish Nationwide, Anglo Irish, Irish Life & Permanent and EBS.

Commissioners are in the process of closing the files on 140 of the executives, but 160 others remain in the spotlight.

Sources said the probe was being carried out because tax chiefs had identified the area as a “high-risk industry”.

The revelation came as the row over bankers’ salaries continued to dominate Dail proceedings yesterday despite Bank of Ireland boss Richie Boucher’s climbdown on his €1.5m pension top-up.

Green Party minister Eamon Ryan called for a review of all pensions and payments in the banking and financial regulatory system after the Government came under fire for failing to force former Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton to give back a controversial €1m bonus.

Mr Ryan said a “complete review” of top bankers’ pension arrangements was now required.

“I don’t see why the banking business should necessarily be treated so differently... that executives have to be paid so high,” he added.

The minister further claimed that the whole culture, resulting in some top executives earning 100 times that of a cashier, must change.

He said that this level of inequality was not sustainable or healthy in the long run. Up until recently, top-level banking salaries reached more than €1m a year.

The probe – revealed in a section of the Revenue Commissioners’ 2009 annual report published yesterday – is headed up by the Revenue’s “highwealth individuals”’ unit.

The Revenue is not just targeting undeclared income. It is also investigating bankers who claim to be based abroad.

Those who spend more than 183 days outside Ireland are able to avoid paying most of their tax here. But the probe will see whether bankers are obeying the rules in this area.

Apart from the clampdown on individuals, the Revenue is also targeting Irish and foreignowned banks based here.

After audits carried out in 2009 more than €38m has been recovered from the sector. Crisis The Revenue said it was paying more attention to the industry “arising from the crisis in the financial sector”.

Generally the Revenue is challenging a number of schemes where it thinks tax avoidance is taking place in the economy.

At the start of last year it was challenging 45 of these schemes, with 10 new ones coming under scrutiny later in 2009. In terms of court actions there were 123 serious tax cases in the pipeline for prosecution.

The Revenue said it did not want to “drag” people through the courts in the middle of a deep recession, but it had to protect tax revenues as much as possible.

The special investigations launched by the Revenue over recent years – including those resulting from the Moriarty and Mahon Tribunals – have now brought in €2.5bn.

More than 34,000 individual cases have come from these investigations, many of them focusing on offshore assets and undeclared DIRT tax.

Meanwhile, the amount of tax the Revenue is still chasing has risen by 17pc in just one year to €1.4bn as businesses and individuals struggle to pay their bills.

The organisation’s annual report also reveals that €221m of outstanding tax has been written off completely after being declared “uncollectible’’.

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