Canada left out of tax probe into leaked offshore data

The U.S., Britain and Australia have announced what could be the biggest ever international investigation into tax cheats — using what is believed to be the same leak of financial records revealed last month by the CBC — and Canada isn't involved.

Revenue Canada requests data after U.S., U.K. and Australia team up to share tax-haven records

Canada can ask for information to pursue tax investigations from countries with which it has treaties, such as Britain and the U.S. But a Canada Revenue Agency official was surprised when told that the U.K. has had a huge cache of offshore financial data — that likely includes at least 450 Canadian names — for nearly three years. (Canadian Press)

The U.S., Britain and Australia announced Thursday they've launched what could be the biggest ever international investigation into tax cheats, using what is believed to be largely the same massive leak of offshore financial records revealed last month by the CBC and other global media outlets.

So far, Australia has red-flagged 65 people for possibly hiding millions from the taxman, while Britain said it has identified more than 100 wealthy individuals allegedly using "complex offshore structures to conceal assets." 

"The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you," British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, the country's equivalent of a finance minister, said in a statement. 

It was not immediately clear why Canada was initially excluded from the partnership. 

In a statement Thursday, Revenue Minister Gail Shea said Canada has been "working tirelessly" with international partners since the media reports surfaced and has secured a commitment from Britain that "information relevant to Canada stemming from this data will be shared."

"My officials have also made formal requests to the American and Australian tax administrations for the information in their possession," the minister's statement said.

Earlier in the day, a senior enforcement official at the Canada Revenue Agency said that the organization was aware of the announcement and is working with countries with which it has agreements to share tax information.

The official was surprised, however, when CBC News told them that Britain has had the offshore data for nearly three years. "Is that right, eh? That's news to me," the official said. 

It appears the data being used in the new probe is the same as, or includes, millions of tax-haven records that the CBC obtained from the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and that contain the names of at least 450 Canadians.

Britain's tax agency said it received the 400 GB of data in 2010. That is the same year that the records obtained by the ICIJ end. However, that amount of information is more than the 260 GB that the ICIJ got. 

The newly announced data trove is said to contain more than two million files — on par with the leak received by the ICIJ, which had about 2.5 million files on tens of thousands of secret offshore companies, including spreadsheets, emails, database entries and shareholder info.

The Australian Tax Office said it got the information in the last 18 months from another country. Neither the U.S. Internal Revenue Service nor Britain's tax authority disclosed where they got the data.

Canada has treaties with Britain and the United States under which it can request the offshore documents from them. 

The CRA has repeatedly pressed the CBC and the ICIJ to hand over their information, saying as recently as Wednesday that it will "pursue all means available to obtain" the records from the media organizations.

130,000 names

The leaked records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists contain information spanning 30 years and 10 offshore tax havens around the world, most notably the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. It is believed to be one of the largest ever leaks of financial data. 

The files shed light on more than 120,000 offshore entities — including shell corporations and legal structures known as trusts — involving 130,000 people in over 170 countries. 

A worldwide media network has turned up revelations in the data on high-ranking politicians and their confidantes, including the prime minister of Georgia and the former president of Colombia; hardened criminals such as a cabal of Russians who stole $230 million from the country's treasury in a colossal tax fraud; and business tycoons.  

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said in a statement on Thursday that it has agreed with the British and Australian tax agencies to share the data they obtained with other countries "if requested."

"It is expected that this multilateral co-operation and co-ordinated effort will allow many countries to efficiently process this information and effectively enforce any laws that may have been broken," the IRS said.

With files from the CBC's Alison Crawford