Israel Tax Authority head Moshe Asher spoke to “Globes” after the revelations earlier this week about 6, 500 accounts in HSBC’s Swiss branch with Israel connections. The list had been known to the French tax authorities but for whatever reason had not been passed onto Israel and only became known after it was leaked to the Internet this week.
Globes: Would the Israeli authorities have been required to hand over something in exchange, money or information, that we couldn’t or didn’t want to do, so we weren’t able to get hold of the list 6 or 7 years ago?
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Asher: “No there weren’t any discussions with the French at all. We asked and we were rebuffed. And with the private entity there were no talks of payment for the list. I want to say in the clearest possible way that the Israel Tax Authority is determined to obtain this list. With this in mind, I want to mention the complicated investigations and intelligence operation that was carried out to obtain the list from UBS in Switzerland. After this complicated investigations and intelligence operation there have been many criminal investigations undertaken. People included on the list were arrested and released on bail.
The UBS list was relatively short but was the information up to date. Were the account holders caught red-handed?
“There is a large number of names on the UBS list. We have not published the list but we are working on it. People are being questioned according to a list of priorities and the pace that the Tax Authority can work.”
And what about this new HSBC list?
“This list, according to the media, concerns accounts between 1998 and 2007, that is to say not an up-to-date list. However, there is great importance in getting hold of it and checking developments, and what has happened to each account since then up until today.”
Leaked details of the accounts happened in 2007 and rumors have been circulating ever since so is it reasonable to assume that most of the account holders have already closed their accounts?
“It is certainly likely that some of the accounts have been closed or transferred to other banks or other countries. At the same time, when we receive the list we will have a solid lead to check those same customers and where the money went. This is part of the work plan of our investigators.”
Accountants have already cited the statute of limitations
“Tax offenses, evading tax payments, have a statute of limitations lasting 10 years. But if the accounts continue to grow with financial income in the years after the offense was committed then a new offense has been committed and this must be dealt with.”
And if there is financial income, maybe this is offsetting losses?
“The moment everything is reported then according to new tax laws there is the option of offsetting losses.”
Offsetting losses against income that had its source in criminal offenses?
“First of all there is a criminal offense in not reporting income and then there are restrictions on offsetting losses overseas that were not reported on time. Therefore, subject to these limitations and criminal proceedings, there will be a need to set the income liable on those accounts not reported and to collect tax accordingly.”
What proportion of the accounts, according to your estimates, were “white” accounts that were reported and the tax paid on them as required?.
“We have no exact estimates about the size of the accounts and their substance. We believe that from what we’ve seen from previous lists, that some of the accounts have reported their capital – some as part of the legitimate business. However, there are no small number of accounts that were not reported, whether they are private accounts or created by unreported economic activities. In some cases, the businesses or private individuals deposited money because of the legislation in effect in Switzerland that did not allow the Swiss banking system to give out information about accounts. This legislation was changed about a year ago and today Swiss banks can hand over information about banks accounts according to tax covenants and international agreements.”
Can you identify Holocaust survivors money and inheritances and distinguish it from other money?
“There are fundamental and unique differences of these accounts from other accounts. We generally can check and distinguish. When we receive the material, we will check it and draw conclusions.”
How many black lists do you possess?
“We today possess thousands of banking lists of Israelis abroad. The banking lists that the Tax Authority will obtain in the coming years will only grow, among other things because of the change in legislation that we are promoting to automatically exchange information with banks. But if you think we won’t cope with all this then you are wrong. Even if it takes time, and it will take time, we will reach every account holder and more than that, nobody can be certain that their account won’t immediately come up for investigation and he won’t be investigated now, tomorrow or next week.”
“Consequently, I call on everyone that has an unreported account abroad to contact the Tax Authority without delay and take advantage of the voluntary disclosure procedure that we recently published. Report everything in your accounts, pay the taxes you haven’t paid over the years and get immunity from criminal proceedings.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com