PAC Meeting | March 5, 2015
Clerk to the Committee: Arising from Chairman's request, I contacted the London office [of HSBC] and I got a phone call late yesterday evening when I came back from Belfast to say that the reason the banks' representatives appeared before the UK Public Accounts Committee is that its headquarters is in the UK.
It did not mean any disrespect to this committee but it does not have any information. That is the gist of the information they gave me. The letter they sent says they are not in possession of records with regard to this matter.
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): Is this from the Dublin office?
Clerk to the Committee: Yes, and the bank is headquartered in London. That is why the bank attended the Public Accounts Committee in London.
Deputy John Deasy: That is a flimsy excuse to give for not coming in. From what the Chairman said, we can take up the offer to attend. Are they willing to come in?
Chairman: The letter says that they are willing and that they would send representatives but they do not know how helpful their representatives could be. If the individual in London was helpful to the Public Accounts Committee in the UK, surely they can provide information via him that is of interest here.
If it is the wish of members, we can get back to HSBC in Dublin and in the headquarters and suggest they send to the meeting of the PAC someone who has some briefing material.
Deputy John Deasy: We should ask them in and take them up on the offer to come in. Let us not beat around the bush. We can ask them questions correctly. If the representative comes back and says that he does not have the information, we will make our minds up then.
Chairman: They may be separate entities within HSBC, but before getting into that, we should write to Mr. Duffy again and to the individual who appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in the UK and ask if someone can be briefed who can assist us with our efforts with the Revenue Commissioners. That would be helpful. A representative should be here.
Chairman: As there is no other business, we will agree our meeting for Thursday, 12 March at which we will have presentations from the Revenue Commissioners and HSBC. I will ask the clerk to report to committee members on the availability of the delegate from HSBC and on what we can expect, so that members are briefed before the meeting.
...I will ask the clerk to ensure members are aware of the response from the HSBC and the extent of the information the delegate will have, so that we are clear in regard to what information can be gleaned through questions.
In regard to the HSE, we should get representatives in as soon as possible. If that is to happen next week, we will sit on Tuesday. The matter is in the public domain and because the HSE caused it to happen, we need an explanation. They will be told we are available to meet them on Tuesday or Wednesday.
PAC Meeting | Feb 26, 2015
Deputy John Deasy: Based on what has been in the news in the past few months and on what Revenue has sent us, is there new information arising from what has appeared in the media recently or does Revenue say they knew this back in 2010 and acted? As I understand it, 27 cases have been completed out of 33 and six are ongoing.
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): We have the information from Revenue and we are going to go through the figures with them. We will be asking about the overall take, how it happened and so on.
Deputy John Deasy: I have no problem with doing that but I have a word of caution. If six cases are still ongoing and involve criminal prosecutions, the final figure will not be known. What they say in the committee will have to be open-ended in that regard.
Deputy Joe Costello: The week before last there was a police raid on HSBC offices in Switzerland relating to offshore accounts and various documents were taken. Can we get an update on that? It is still a live issue but it would be interesting to know whether any new documents have come into the public domain.
Chairman: We will check that point with Revenue and what we do will depend on their reply.
Deputy John Deasy: Is there any intention of asking a representative from HSBC to come before the committee? The head of HMRC, the UK equivalent of the Revenue Commissioners, testified in Westminster yesterday along with the CEO of HSBC.
Chairman: We have different terms of reference. I would love to extend an invitation to someone from HSBC to attend and if they were willing to do so, I would love to hear what they had to say. Our remit, though, is to work directly with Revenue in this case. It might be worthwhile to write to HSBC to ask if they want to be present at the meeting.
Deputy John Deasy: If the chairman and CEO showed up in Westminster, I think they would find it very hard to refuse to show up here.
Chairman: We will extend an invitation to them.
PAC Meeting | Feb 12, 2015
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): Turning to the work programme, Deputy McDonald has raised a question regarding the Revenue Commissioners and the recent controversy.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I spoke to you, Chairman, and the Clerk of the Committee, about the revelations regarding HSBC and 350 deposit holders with deposits of in excess of €3 billion. We understand that the Revenue Commissioners have recovered €4.55 million by way of tax settlement.
I am anxious that we contact the Revenue Commissioners to ask them for a detailed briefing on these matters and that we then invite them to appear before the committee so we can examine the matters with them. I wish to make that formal proposal.
Deputy Joe Costello: I support what Deputy McDonald has proposed. It is a major scandal that over €3 billion in the accounts of over 350 Irish citizens would be in a bank of this nature, which is very questionable in the manner in which it operates.
A similar situation has transpired in Britain, where over 1,000 British citizens were in the same situation. HM Revenue and Customs have collected approximately £135 million in that country. The small amount that appears to have been collected is causing major issues.
The Revenue Commissioners would have had access to the information almost five years ago and have operated in private in all the investigations that have taken place. We do not know the extent of the investigations.
We know the extent of the findings, which is that 22 account holders produced €4.5 million. That is from 350 clients and over €3 billion in cash. One is the subject of a criminal investigation. I understand there is also only one criminal investigation in the United Kingdom. In addition, this bank, HSBC, has over 500 subsidiaries which are largely in tax havens. Has that been chased up?
There are major questions to be answered. I agree that we should get a full and frank report on the matter and that we invite the Revenue Commissioners to appear before the committee on this issue.
Deputy John Deasy: First, I do not believe there is anything wrong with having an account in HSBC. Second, before we ask the Revenue Commissioners to appear before the committee we should ask them for the report and then make our decision.
The Revenue Commissioners have proven to be quite adept at dealing with tax evasion and tax avoidance over the past 20 years. At least we should give them the opportunity to explain the issues. It might not be the case that there is tax avoidance or evasion in some of these cases or that criminality is involved.
At the very least we should allow them to put together a briefing note for the committee before we make a decision about a public hearing.
Chairman: That is the proposal, that we seek the information and make a decision arising from that. They have to make clear to us the number of account holders, the number investigated by the Revenue Commissioners for suspicion of tax evasion, the number who have been prosecuted, the settlements and the amount involved, including penalties, the resources that were dedicated to examine HSBC and include a note on the way in which the information was obtained in the first place.
All of that is relevant information that should be sought by the committee, because there is a need to clarify matters for the general public who have simply read the reports in the newspapers. It says something about the work of public accounts that the Public Accounts Committee in the UK is meeting to discuss this issue and it has staff from HM Revenue and Customs appearing before it.
I agree with seeking the report. However, when the news broke initially there might have been a letter from this committee or, perhaps, it should have been a proactive approach by the Revenue Commissioners to say, "This is what we have done. We know you might be concerned about it", and to set the case out before us.
When the Clerk of the Committee writes to the Revenue Commissioners he should say that we need this information as soon as possible. The information has been compiled over the last number of years, although it has only become public now, so it should be to hand. They should send us a comprehensive report on the matter as soon as possible.
If it could be done within a week, which I believe it can, we could deal with it at our meeting next Thursday and decide after that.