Government ready to make offshore accounts a "criminal offence"

Finance Minister Michael Noonan's plans to tackle tax dodgers to be published next week...

Irish people with offshore bank accounts could be facing jail time.

From next May, it will be a "criminal offence" to avoid paying tax by keeping more than €100,000 outside the country.

The plans to introduce strict new laws that could see high-profile businessmen and celebrities prosecuted had been included in Budget 2017, but will be explained fully when Michael Noonan's Finance Bill is published next Thursday.

Revenue chairman Niall Cody has now confirmed a crackdown on tax dodging is on the way at the latest meeting of the cross-party Dáil Public Accounts Committee, the Irish Examiner reports.

Cody said that the discounts and protections people with offshore accounts currently enjoy will be scrapped from May 1st; currently those found doing so can benefit from a 10% discount on money they owe, keep their identity secret and avoid prosecution because of the money that can be retrieved by making deals.

Cody said:

“It’s an anti-amnesty law for serious tax evasion and involves off-shore accounts. It is a straight liability offence. Having the off-shore account will be a criminal offence. If a footprint is found, there are going to be the consequences.”

At the same committee meeting, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy revealed that 40%-68% of self-assessed people in this country underpay tax by thousands of euro every year. He said that a random Revenue review of 400 audits between 2013 and 2015 had "consistently" found that "around 40% of [self-assessed] taxpayers' have under-declared their tax liability", with a separate review in 2015 recording a 68% non-compliance rate.

The Finance Minister stated in Budget 2017:

"The release of the so-called 'Panama Papers' earlier this year showed how defaulters use offshore structures and accounts to avoid paying tax. International developments and agreements are leading to the better sharing of information.

"In the Finance Bill, I will act to restrict the opportunity for offshore defaulters to use the voluntary disclosure regime with effect from May next year, and I will introduce a new strict liability criminal offence to facilitate the prosecution of serious cases of offshore tax evasion.

"I am pleased to announce the allocation of an additional €5 million to the Revenue Commissioners for the recruitment of 50 additional staff and additional investment in systems and equipment."