Britain’s leading tax official has been panned after HMRC used powers designed to catch terrorists to track down an employee who dislcosed a top-secret multi-million-pound “sweetheart” deal with Goldman Sachs.
Lin Homer, Chief Executive of HMRC, has informed the public accounts committee that the belongings, internet search records, phone calls and emails of in-house solicitor Osita Mba and the phone records of his wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators.
These records had been obtained using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).
Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee, stated that HMRC’s use of the powers, supposedly to discover if Mba had been talking to the Guardian’s then investigations editor, David Leigh, had “shocked her to her bones”.
The MP expressed her surprise that Homer “made a request under Ripa, which is used to deal with terrorism” and sought assurance that HMRC would “never again use these powers on a whistleblower”.
However, Homer refused to offer Hodge the reassurance, adding: “You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won’t use these … I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals.”
Through the Public Interest Disclosure Act, Mba wrote a confidential letter to the National Audit Office (NAO) and two parliamentary committees in 2011 stating that the then head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had “let off” Goldman Sachs from an interest bill of nearly £10 million.
Upon discovering Mba’s intervention, HMRC investigators examined records and the phone records of his then wife, Claudia.
Hodge was asked if she thought it was appropriate to pass over Mba’s wife’s personal contact details to HMRC staff. Hodge accepted that he was acting in good faith and added that lessons had been learned from this ordeal.
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