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Britain, U.S., Australia hunt for tax evaders yielding leads

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arrives for the Global Investment Conference 2013 in London May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Luke M
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arrives for the Global Investment Conference 2013 in London May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Luke M

By William James and Patrick Temple-West

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A joint effort by Britain, the United States and Australia to track down people who conceal wealth in offshore tax structures has helped identify more than 100 individuals, the UK's tax authority said on Thursday.

"The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you," said Britain's Finance Minister George Osborne.

After a string of high-profile multinational companies were shown to be paying little or no tax in the UK, Britain has been pushing the European Union and other major economies to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said it had teamed up with Australian and U.S. authorities to help speed up analysis of 400 gigabytes of data they have obtained.

Michael Danilack, a deputy U.S. Internal Revenue Service commissioner said the United States was willing to share this information with other countries.

UK and U.S. officials declined to identify the source of the information.

"This data is another weapon in HMRC's arsenal," Britain's Osborne said.

The data may overlap with data leaked to The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the watchdog group said on Thursday.

In April, the ICIJ and media partners began reporting on alleged tax evasion cases stemming from 260 gigabytes of information, including cash transfers and incorporation dates.

"The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes," the ICIJ said in a statement.

Britain's HMRC said some of those identified as a result of the three-country collaboration were already under investigation for tax evasion, and more than 200 other accountants, lawyers and advisers face scrutiny over their roles in setting up offshore tax structures.

Early results from the project with the U.S. IRS and the Australian Tax Office highlighted the use of trusts and companies in territories such as Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.

(Reporting by William James in London and Patrick Temple-West in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Toni Reinhold)

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