Nine businesses are being probed by HMRC for potential breaches of the new corporate criminal offence of failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion, with 21 other potential cases under criminal review, according to tax law experts.
The investigations and cases under review cover UK businesses of all sizes and operating across 10 different sectors including financial services, oil, construction, labour provision and software development.
Andrew Sackey, head of tax fraud investigations at Pinsent Masons, said: "HMRC worked hard to get these new criminal powers and is determined to use them. This news should set alarm bells ringing for any businesses in Scotland which have so far put dealing with the corporate criminal offences to the bottom of their compliance to-do list.
All parts of the financial services sector are clear targets for HMRC’s activities"
"All parts of the financial services sector are clear targets for HMRC's activities; however infrastructure, haulage, labour service providers and construction businesses also look particularly vulnerable to investigations under these rules because of their reliance on supply chains and sub-contractor networks."
Under new white-collar crime laws, companies are automatically guilty if they fail to prevent the criminal facilitation of tax evasion. The provisions, under the Criminal Finances Act 2017, eliminate the need for prosecutors to show that there was a "controlling mind" at board level.
By tackling the most serious forms of tax crime HMRC said it was "creating a level playing for honest businesses and citizens. We are determined that they shouldn't be disadvantaged or impacted by the criminal actions of others".
HMRC has a range of civil and criminal powers at its disposal to tackle those committing serious fraud. It can lead to prosecution and imprisonment, life-changing penalties, seizure of assets, and sanctions. It also takes all necessary action to recover the unpaid tax.
In 2019, HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service launched over 16,000 civil and more than 760 criminal investigations, securing and protecting more than £5.4bn for vital public services. The unit is pursuing nearly 200 investigations into professional enablers of tax crime, including accountants, lawyers, tax advisers and cryptocurrency brokers.