Monday 11 June 2012

Information Commissioner Investigates HMRC

The information commissioner has launched an inquiry into the way that HMRC's criminal investigations unit obtained and used personal information belonging to the family of Osita Mba, a revenue solicitor, and his wife, Claudia.

Documents sent to the information commissioner's office show that in October last year one of Mr Mba's managers forwarded his and his wife's address and four contact telephone numbers to an officer in HMRC's criminal investigations unit.

In December 2011 I wrote:
"Osita Mba, a solicitor with HMRC who turned whistleblower on HMRC's deal with the giant vampire squid (Goldman Sachs), is facing disciplinary proceedings (possibly dismissal and prosecution) for telling the National Audit Office (NAO) and two parliamentary committees about his concerns over the deal.
Mr Mba has worked for HMRC for four years, and apparently has knowledge of the vampire squid deal.
Mr Mba made the disclosure to the NAO and parliament under whistleblowing legislation which, theoretically, is meant to protect whistleblowers from prosecution etc.

It seems that HMRC think otherwise, and have launched an inquiry into Mr Mba's conduct. He has been barred from entering his office at Westminster unless he has a personal escort from his line manager, and has been summoned to a meeting."
HMRC's criminal investigations unit can examine tax and telephone records as part of its inquiries. It can also apply to intercept post, emails and telephone calls.

The Guardian reports that the information commissioner's office has given HMRC 28 days to explain how its criminal investigations unit obtained the numbers and why it is not in breach of the Data Protection Act.

It will be interesting to read their explanation.

I have warned many times on this site before about the dangers of giving more power to HMRC, this issue highlights why my warning should be heeded.

I am not alone in being concerned, the disclosure has caused concern among MPs on the Commons public accounts committee who say an ongoing criminal inquiry into Mba and his wife is heavy-handed and wrong.

Why are HMRC out to get Mr Mba?

It seems that HMRC blames Mr Mba for the demise of Dave "Jack" Hartnett.

Stephen Barclay, a committee member, said:
"This is a concerning development. We have taken a very close interest in a whistleblower who we regard as having provided information of public interest to parliament. Clearly we will need to see the details but there is a sense of mistakes being compounded with further mistakes."
HMRC have for the moment declined to comment.

However, they cannot remain silent forever and have to answer the information commissioner's questions.

Stephen Barclay advises me that there are two PAC sessions on HMRC on 26/27th of this month. It will be interesting to see what is unearthed.

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. This isn't the first time HMRC have sailed close to the wind....Previously, they paid a criminal gang a large sum of money for a stolen list of account details in off shore accounts held by British citizens. If any one else had done something similar, they would have been prosecuted for receiving stolen goods.......Without a buyer, most goods would not be stolen as there would be little point in doing so....Paying gangs of criminals for stolen data encourages them to commit such crimes again.

  2. It was always a mistake to confer criminal investigation powers on HMRC in the Finance Act 2007. HMRC claimed that since organised criminals seek to attack the UK’s tax and duty systems to steal taxpayer’s money, they (HMRC) needed similar criminal investigation powers to those that are available to other law enforcement agencies. But when Parliament conferred the powers there was no checks and balances on the use of the powers against HMRC staff. Today, Internal Governance routinely use these powers to stifle dissent. Union Reps and other ‘troublemakers’ know this. Jack must have felt himself so immune that he never anticipated that someone like Mr Mba could actually speak out.

  3. Ken, this HMRC document should interest you and Steve Barclay:

    it's supposed to be about safeguards but i'm shocked that Os and HO's in HMRC can authorise criminal investigations!

  4. HMRC is clearly acting Ultra Vires even under the terms of the 2007 legislation. The fact it has not brought a criminal prosecution against Mba shows that it has no case and is merely abusing its powers to intimidate genuine whistle blowers who are attempting to maintain democratic accountability

    The department is out of control and should be broken up.

    1. Hear hear! This blatant harassment of a public-spirited whistleblower would not have happened pre-merger because the Inland Revenue never had those criminal investigation powers. Only Customs & Excise who actually tackled criminals like smugglers and counterfeiters did. Not it's all rolled into HMRC and apparently can be unleashed against members of staff that expose serious wrongdoings but not against the people that committed the wrongdoings.

  5. since HMRC have all these crimnal investigatory powers, I wonder why they haven't nicked Jack for his sweetheart deals? it looks like time for the Met to receive a complaint from 'a member of the public' regarding misconduct in a public office etc