Category Archives: tax evasion

When justice is delayed too long the Devil is dancing.

It’s very hard to write a rational, unemotional blog about the state of our financial system when I’ve just been to see a friend, who is a victim of bank fraud, who has been waiting for justice for over 10 years, and who is now dying of terminal cancer. But I’m going to try because too many people now are dying without ever seeing justice done. Perhaps just as bad, those they leave behind see little benefit to justice in the future because no amount of money or even bankers being jailed, can never bring back someone you love. There are some things money can’t buy.

I should add straight away that I’m not saying a bank caused my friend’s cancer – it didn’t. But years of stress, anguish, eviction hearings and trying to make ends meet will not have helped the situation. I’m not a doctor but it seems logical to me that the energy and willpower you need to try and fight of an evil disease like cancer and which should be your primary concern, is not aided when you have bailiffs at the door and a banks top lawyers trying to grind your chances of justice into the ground with legal technicalities and the ever promoted ‘costs’ threat.

That is a reality. When victims of bank misconduct are put with their backs against the wall, no one in authority says “hang on a minute, there’s a reason they can’t pay their Council tax or their bills”, they just go for the throat – which is why we have obscene programmes like ‘Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away.” Bankers on the other hand, faced with serious allegations that may see them facing fines or, God forbid, criminal charges, can rely on their fail safe – money. Shareholders money (in some cases tax payers money) to bail them out of difficult situations.

It’s only a month since the wife of one of the SME Alliance members died of a heart attack – and in that case I suspect the conduct of a bank was the root cause. When that happened it reminded me of an article I found years ago which was written as a result of research by Cambridge University academics, entitled “Can a Bank Crisis Break Your Heart?”: http://www.cam.ac.uk/news/can-a-bank-crisis-break-your-heart

Obviously a bank crisis and I would add bank policy, can break your heart but business, economic climate and political policy doesn’t seem very interested in the human cost of unethical or even criminal bankers conduct. I say bankers because, as always, I would remind everyone that despite legal terminology, a ‘bank’ is the sum of the people who run it. So I’m feeling pretty heart broken even although I’m not the person dying. Neither am I going to be the person most affected by living without my friend. Her husband and children are and even her parents (who can bear the thought of burying their child?).

Anyway, all this has just hammered me. I’ve found it hard to function in the last few days thinking my friend has a couple of weeks to live and there is no way I can do anything about it or even guarantee justice will be served when she’s gone.

I know it’s very non PC of me to talk about human tragedy and banking in the same breath – but tough. It’s about time we stopped pussy footing around what is happening. Above all else, I believe that as a society we should not let the interests of economics or globalisation over take our ability or even our wish to be decent human beings. Sadly, some people, whether because they are genuinely socio-paths or whether their terms of employment push them into that position, are losing site of their responsibilities as human beings.

Maybe they just don’t realise the consequences of their actions? Certainly many bankers and regulators seem willing to turn a blind eye to the reality of bad banking conduct – and this cavalier attitude to individuals is, ironically, doing good banking a huge disservice. Whereas it seemed totally unreasonable up until 2008 to suggest bankers were anything other than professional people and an essential part of society, in general the opposite applies now and the collective name for bankers is often derogatory regardless of whether they are perfectly good people or one of the acknowledged egomaniacs who have hit the headlines in recent years. No one bats an eye to “yet another banking scandal.” We have even become immune to them – right up to the moment they affect us personally. Right up to the moment a bank deliberately targets our business or repossesses our house. Right up to the moment we realise there is no defence against this immoral conduct.

I have been fighting for justice since 2007. I thought it would be easy and that, having identified a massive bank fraud, I could write to senior management of the bank concerned and they would be keen to investigate the matter and make sure any victims of the fraud were compensated and the villains persecuted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then successive senior managements have gone out of their way to bury the fraud I identified and even persecute the victims – presumably in the belief attack is the best defence. But why would you attack your own clients for things your own staff did? I don’t know why but I do know at Board level that has been the banks’ preferred choice.

Nine years on I am still waiting for justice – and so is my friend. Except now justice will come too late. When she dies and she knows she will very soon, she will be the sixth victim to have died without seeing justice for this particular bank fraud.

Last summer one of my colleagues at SME Alliance and I went to a meeting with Head Counsel and Head of Litigation for a major bank. When our conversation turned to Private Criminal Prosecutions, the Head of Litigation became quite outraged and he said that we should realise that when we make criminal allegations we are ruining people’s lives. Even now I remain confused by this comment – does he seriously not realise how many lives his bank is ruining? Not just ruining lives but taking lives? Clearly the man was capable of having empathy towards others because he seemed genuinely concerned we would consider criminal proceedings against bankers. So how comes this same bank is notorious for its lack of empathy to its customers? Are they considered as a different species? Is this why the good old personal bank manager had to go – because he did empathise with his clients? Maybe he even liked them so the idea of selling them  ‘products of mass destruction’ would have have been distasteful to him?

In terms of banking reform I believe we are walking backwards. No one is properly regulating banks and no one is stopping the merry-go-round of greed and corruption which remains rife in our financial sector. On the other side of the fence, public anger is not dissipating and when one person dies one hundred people dig their heels in harder and want to see justice done. In the same way you can only beat a dog so many times before it will bite you, you can only break so many hearts before the consequences become equally dire.

I wish the senior management of banks would wake up to this fact. Justice has a way of being done despite all attempts to stop it and that includes the apparently well known judicial phrase “might over right.”

It is fortunate my friend is deeply religious and she has no doubt she will be going to a better place – neither do I doubt it, she is a good and kind person. The one sure thing we know about life is we we all leave it one day and the departure lounge for that journey doesn’t have a first class section or private jets – just a completely level playing field or “right over might.”

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Apathy International. Does anyone really expect HSBC or wealthy tax evaders to be prosecuted?

I had an interesting conversation on twitter last night with someone I don’t know from Canada – although I think he is British. The very topical subject was “why are wealthy people guilty of tax evasion not prosecuted?” And right from the start of the conversation my twitter friend, let’s call him Bill, made the point that in his view it would cost so much money and take so much time to prosecute them all, it would be counter productive. The cost would be more than the gain.

Bill is probably right. Tracking down the thousands of people identified by the Swiss Whistle blower (and let’s face it, as he says, his list is the tip of the iceberg) would cost a fortune and would probably result in very lengthy criminal trials where the only beneficiaries would be the lawyers. And Bill compared the situation to the gun amnesty used in the US. Hand in your unlicensed gun and we’ll say no more about it. Here the equivalent would be throw the tax man a few thousand pounds voluntarily and we’ll call it a day. I say a few thousand because, in the same way it wouldn’t be cost effective to prosecute these people, I can’t imagine HMRC have the manpower or even the will to do full on investigations into how much is actually owed?

My point was (and is) even considering the logistics of this situation, how can a democratic country ditch the law in the case of one section of society because it’s not cost effective to enforce law? Tax evasion is against the law and nowhere does it say “unless you are part of a rich minority who has been advised by your bank to shunt your money offshore.”

I also made the point HMRC will go through hell and high water to prosecute so called benefit cheats or even people on low incomes who may have been overpaid and then can’t pay it back. Similarly SMEs will be hounded for perceived VAT or tax issues and, if the man in the street doesn’t get all his tax returns in precisely on time and to their satisfaction, HMRC will be very efficient in sending out demands for what they calculate is owed or hefty fines. They also have no compunction about prosecuting for a few hundred pounds if they feel it is due. And that happens to thousands of people.

Bill made the point it doesn’t make any difference whether you cheat the tax man of £50.00 or £5M – it’s still against the law. I agree. So why do I have this horrible feeling you are less likely to be penalised for the £5M than the £50? And the same seems to be true of money laundering or other economic crimes. Big banks money laundering for drug cartels just get hefty fines paid by their shareholders but no one goes to jail. Here’s an extract from my book about HBOS (to be published in the dim and distant future) on these criminal but curiously acceptable transactions:

And by the way, how does that happen? It’s common knowledge now that certain banks have done these totally illegal deals and, yet again, no one in any bank is to blame and instead, the shareholders have paid massive fines as a penalty for bankers conduct. But if no one’s to blame, how do the deals get done? Do the bosses of the drug cartels phone a special ‘money laundering’ call centre and listen to an anonymous voice giving various options: “Please dial 1 for drug deals, 2 for arms deals or 3 for off shore tax evasion. To hear these options again, please dial 4.” Or do the Banks have departments which deal specifically with these ‘dodgy transactions’ and where the staff work in the secure knowledge no one will ever go to jail for criminal deals because bankers are above the law?”

Then there’s other proven fraudulent products like IRHP – another fine. Out and out asset theft from SMEs – another fine. PPI, EFG, SFLG, it’s becoming like a game show – think of an acronym and the contestants get to guess the appropriate meaning and the applicable fine. Winner gets two weeks in the Caymen Islands all expenses (and of course taxes) paid by the FCA. But if you or I were to commit any deliberately fraudulent act to turn a quick profit, you could expect and get the full force of the law to come into force.

However, taxes and financial crime aside, what really disturbed me about my twitter conversation which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed because I love a good debate, was the apathy involved. While Bill agreed with me we shouldn’t have a two tier justice system, his very logical approach was, as Tony Soprano would say, wattayagonnado? We are where we are and there’s little we can do about it – apparently.

I am pretty sure the members of SME Alliance would not agree. Most of them (me included) have been victims of the many and varied banking scams which have devastated SMEs. Most of us have been fighting for justice for what seems like a lifetime and sometimes pretty much is and we are, putting it politely, extremely angry at the way banks, who have caused us so much damage, are never penalised except with shareholders fines. Neither are they obliged by the regulators to repair the damage done. So when we hear about people with very healthy off shore bank accounts, organised by their bank, becoming immune from prosecution, we are anything but apathetic, we’re furious. It’s another slap in the face of the British justice system and another reason we are losing faith in it.

But, being honest, I think back to my life before the consequences of fraudulent bankers and their associates kicked in – was I even aware of our two tier justice system? Admittedly inequality has got worse since the so called credit crunch but, if my business hadn’t been sabotaged and had instead fulfilled its full potential and made millions of pounds, would I be seriously concerned about the conduct of the likes of HSBC and its tax dodging clients? Would I be calling for prosecutions? Or would I be taking the rather detached and very logical approach Bill takes?

We have a saying in our house, “you can’t not know what you do know.” And that’s a shame because the things I now know after 7 years of investigating bank fraud and social injustice, very often stop me sleeping at night. I didn’t sleep much last night thinking it’s possible a massive segment of society may be so oblivious to what is happening to democracy or, more likely, just trying to get on with their own reduced circumstances in austerity Britain, they don’t even care about off shore accounts in Switzerland or Monaco. But I think (or should I say I hope) I would have been aware, albeit to a lesser degree, of the increasing dangers our democracy faces even if I hadn’t experienced the consequences personally. I’m a lyricist and a poet and I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez – so the spirit of protest has always been there. But who knows? As long as the comfortable remain comfortable, will they rock the boat? Hmmn. While apathy is, on the one hand a powerful tool for the State, it’s also a powerful tool for the individual conscience.

“If there is nothing I can do about injustice, no one can blame me for doing nothing.” It’s a scary concept but one that has helped permit every shameful human catastrophe.

Anyway, I don’t know what the resolution is to the HSBC tax evaders or the many other tax evaders who were no doubt advised by other banks. Quite frankly, I think those banks must be bricking it in case their own whistle blowers come forward. I agree with Bill, it is impractical to think HMRC can or will prosecute all of these people. But, and remembering this year sees the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, if we are truly a democratic society, I cannot see how Government, or the appropriate authority, cannot prosecuted them? After all, one person has been prosecuted and surely that has set the precedent? And what was so special about that case? Seems a bit harsh – thousands do it but only one pays the price.

I wouldn’t like to be running this Country. Whatever good intentions any of our politicians have, there seems to be an endless barrage of obstacles in the way of good governance and most of those involve the necessity to compromise and close their eyes to the kind of corruption that is swamping the Country. Hard, I imagine, not to just go with the flow for the 5 years they are in power. And hardest for those in power as opposed to those in opposition where it’s easy to shout foul (especially if you have a short memory)!

If anyone thinks they have the answer to the current problem – is it possible to prosecute every criminal act in the financial system and the associated activities like tax evasion, I’d be happy to hear it and I’m sure many politicians would as well. If we did take this route, we’d have to build a lot more prisons because financial crime, without doubt, is more epidemic or contagious than the flu and we have no jab for it. We seem to have no cure for corruption.

I leave you with a poem I wrote in 2003. I rarely inflict poetry on my blog readers but this one seems entirely appropriate.

Apathy International

I am a member of

Apathy International.

I am working my way up in the company

and should shortly become

a bored member.

Membership was free

and just slipped onto my shoulders

during a raging storm,

like a comfortable old raincoat.

The effects are almost unnoticeable

as is everything else now.

And, as in all such large organisations,

only non members receive active attention,

so I fully expect to disappear completely and painlessly any day now.

(Which I really can’t worry about).

But late at night I wake up

terrified

as a distant but unfiltered image of raw gaping wounds stabs me

and I can hear the hideous cackle of the devil’s favourite shareholders

and I recognise the voice of our beloved CEO crooning

and I think I will implode with panic.

But in the grey reasoned morning light

I think –

what could I do? Nothing.

So I don’t –

except to gently fondle my membership badge.

© Nikki Turner 2003