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Danny Alexander pledges new criminal offence for those aiding tax evasion

A new criminal offence should be introduced to clamp down on tax evasion, a senior figure in Britain’s finance ministry said on Sunday in the wake of a scandal surrounding HSBC.

Allegations that HSBC’s Swiss private bank helped clients evade tax has pushed the issue to the fore of political debate in Britain less than three months before a national election.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a member of junior coalition partner the Liberal Democrats, said the new offence of corporate failure to prevent economic crime would include aiding or facilitating tax evasion. Those who help others commit tax evasion will face the same financial penalty as the evaders themselves.

He hoped the new measures would be introduced before the May 7 election but if not they would be part of his party’s manifesto, he said.

Tax evasion is already illegal in Britain but the new law would make it explicit that those assisting tax evaders would also be open to punishment. Tax avoidance is not illegal.

“It is a crime, plain and simple. If someone helps a break into your home they end up in the dock as an accomplice. It should be the same if some helps a tax evader,” Alexander said in a statement.

Codes of practice for professions which advise on tax affairs should also be strengthened, he said.

HSBC has admitted failings in compliance and controls in its Swiss operation after media reports that said it had helped wealthy customers to conceal millions of dollars of assets up to 2007.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives have come under pressure from the opposition Labour Party for accepting donations from seven of the HSBC account holders. Cameron has not disputed the donations and there is no suggestion the account holders did anything illegal.

Cameron, who has said his government has taken steps to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, has also faced criticism over his 2010 appointment of former HSBC executive chairman Stephen Green as a peer and trade minister, a role he no longer fulfils.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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