The Canada Revenue Agency has launched a new snitch line for ratting out people who funnel money offshore to dodge taxes, with cash rewards promised for successful tips.
People ready to inform on offshore tax cheats can call as of today, Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay announced, and if the tip pans out, receive a reward of between five and 15 per cent of the cash collected.
“This will be a critical tool for recovering taxes that might otherwise be lost to tax cheats,” Findlay said at a news conference Wednesday in Vancouver, almost 10 months after the government announced in its last budget that it would create the hotline.
The Offshore Tax Informant Program, as it's known, has strict conditions:
- It only offers rewards where the tax cheater owes more than $100,000 to the federal government, not including interest or penalties.
- The unpaid taxes must arise internationally, from accounts or assets held outside Canada.
- To ensure no one profits from a crime they committed, people convicted of tax evasion can’t report information related to their own case.
Even if a tip is successful, the CRA admits "it may take several years" before informants receive any cash. That's because the agency will only hand out a reward once all avenues of appeal have been exhausted by the tax cheater who was snitched on.
Anyone in the world can call. There’s a toll-free line in North America and tipsters can call collect.
U.S. banker got $104M snitch reward
The reward for snitching someone out ranges from five to 15 per cent of the taxes the CRA ultimately collects, depending on the quality and relevance of the tipster's information and how co-operative they are with the revenue agency.
Lawyer Jonathan Garbutt, who helps wealthy clients move money offshore using methods he affirms are legal, said the new snitch line wasn't well planned and the CRA will be inundated with bogus claims.
“I have zero confidence in the CRA to sort the gold from the sewage,” Garbutt said. “They're going to waste a lot of time, money and effort on a program that's just going to be more hassle than it's probably worth.”
For years, other countries have rewarded people who snitch on tax cheats .
The United States has had the legal authority to pay for tax tips since the 19th century. It spent a decade finessing its process and in 2006 upped the rewards to 15 to 30 per cent of the tax windfall it recovers. It only solicits serious cases with strong evidence. In what is thought to be the biggest such reward in U.S. history, former Swiss banker Brad Birkenfeld received $104 million for ratting out his former employer, UBS, and helping authorities go after the bank's clients for tax evasion.
Canada's revenue minister says she’s confident the CRA can handle the influx of calls and will readjust if it can’t. “If it means we need to have some more people or repurpose some employees or whatever, there's flexibility to do that as we go along,” Findlay said.
Rejected tips in past
The new Canadian hotline is part of a government campaign with $15 million in new money over five years to beef up the fight against international tax cheats. Every year in Canada it’s estimated up to $8 billion in tax revenue is lost because of money stashed offshore.
The CRA has been approached in the past by whistleblowers with scads information on Canadians with money stashed in secret offshore accounts. But in both known large cases — a leak of data from a Liechtenstein bank in 2007 and last year's leak of offshore financial records — the informants sought rewards and the revenue agency had to turn them away due to its then-policy of not paying for tax-evasion tips.
The CRA eventually got the leaked data in those cases from its partner tax agencies in other countries.
The new tip hotline comes at a time when the CRA is facing huge cuts: It's losing more than 2,500 staff and its budget will shrink by $259 million by 2018. The agency has cut 37 offshore auditor jobs since 2008-2009 but says those positions were simply moved to another department.
Liberal Senator Percy Downe, who has repeatedly called the government soft on offshore tax evasion, pointed to a recent auditor general’s report that raised concerns about the CRA’s ability to handle the increasing influx of offshore tax intel.
“What is the point of giving CRA more information if they do not have the resources to make use of it? The government needs to reverse its cuts at CRA,” Downe said in a statement.
Tipsters can call the Canada Revenue Agency's new offshore hotline at 613-960-4265 or toll-free at 1-855-345-9042. All calls are confidential.