Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Whistleblowing at HMRC

Certain stories emerge every so often which act as a barometer for our times. This is one. 

A whistleblower contacted the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. He wrote ‘in confidence’ but the clerk to the public accounts committee contacted HMRC to check whether the whistleblower was their employee. What followed is salutary.

Tax officials used intrusive investigative powers meant to catch serious criminals to try to prove that a whistleblower who uncovered a "sweetheart" deal with Goldman Sachs had spoken to the Guardian, it has emerged.
The belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls of the HM Revenue and Customs solicitor Osita Mba and the phone records of his wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators, according to previously undisclosed documents.
The powers, which are supposed to be used to combat large-scale criminal tax frauds, were used because the tax inspectors suspected that Mba had been in contact with the Guardian's former investigations editor, David Leigh.
Leigh's telephone numbers and email addresses were cross-referenced with Mba's, but investigators found no evidence of contact, documents show.Guardian 30/4/13

The Guardian published a story by David Leigh in October 2011 in which he claimed that Goldman Sachs had been let off paying £10 million in tax. The Revenue reacted to the disclosure by authorising the use of powers normally applied to serious crime. Their motive in this is questionable. 

Using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), HMRC can see websites viewed by taxpayers, where a mobile phone call was made or received, and the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. According to the revenue website, these powers "can only be used when investigating serious crime". (ibid)

Yet again we have a case of shoot the messenger. What has been exposed is shocking on so many levels:

  • The existence of sweetheart deals: would that ordinary taxpayers were treated with such fawning concern and consideration.

  • The lengths the authorities will go to to keep their squalid deals hidden from view.

  • The amount of money involved: four sweetheart deals are today revealed as worth £4.5 billion between 4 as yet unnamed companies. 

  • The treatment of someone brave enough to stand up and expose the scandal. This story fits the definition of Public Interest Disclosure to a ‘t’  - so what are the parliamentary committees going to do about it? And more particularly, what is going to happen to the person (or persons) who authorised the use of RIPA on Mr Mba? Will they face the full disciplinary powers available to HMRC and be dismissed? 

This case typifies so much of what is wrong in the UK today. A wealthy elite work cosy little deals with each other to their mutual advantage. Most of this mutual back-scratching goes on behind closed doors. Our politicians collude with this system while launching nasty and divisive attacks on the poor and vulnerable. The comfortable arrangement with the political parties and the major accountancy firms is yet another example of how corrupt our elite have become. 

Anyone with the balls to stand up and expose these cosy ‘arrangements’  is to be crushed, not because they have done anything wrong, but to send a message ‘pour encourager les autres.’ 

“Cathy James, the head of the whistleblowers' charity, Public Concern at Work, said the decision to use intrusive powers to examine an employee who made claims using whistleblowing legislation was "outrageous" and "sinister". (ibid)

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