CRA adds more staff to crack down on tax cheats, Diane Lebouthillier says

The federal government is spending $444 million on a new strategy to crack down on individual tax cheats and companies that stash cash in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes, Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier says.

Commons finance committee will hold vote to decide on whether to investigate Isle of Mann scheme

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier announces new initiatives to combat aggressive tax avoidance and offshore tax evasion during a press conference in Ottawa Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's tax agency is hiring 100 more auditors and targeting four jurisdictions, including the Isle of Man, to crack down on tax cheats.

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier announced Monday the strategy will root out high-risk wealthy Canadians and corporations that stash cash in offshore accounts to avoid taxes.

CBC News has also learned that the Commons finance committee will vote Tuesday on a motion that, if passed, could lead the federal government to investigate those involved in the Isle of Man tax-dodge.

Investigators could look into how the scheme was set up and who may have played a part in the tax-avoidance, including officials from the Canadian Revenue Agency and the accounting firm KPMG.

The federal government is spending $444 million on the new measures, which are expected to recoup $2.6 billion in added revenue over five years. The government is moving from a cash-recovery model to one that focuses on deterrence.

While most Canadians pay their fair share, some of the wealthiest individuals and companies "buy their way out" of paying taxes, Lebouthillier said.

"This is not acceptable, and this situation must change," she told a news conference in Ottawa.

Since January, the Canada Revenue Agency has been collecting information on all transfers of international funds over $10,000. Lebouthillier said at least 100 more auditors and experts will target high-risk multi-national corporations.

The Canada Revenue Agency is gearing up to crack down harder on tax cheats. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Existing measures have been achieving "convincing results," collecting more than $11 billion in taxes, penalties and interest in 2015-16, but more must be done, she said.

Isle of Man targeted

The government is also appointing an independent advisory committee to be chaired by Colin Campbell, a law professor at Western University. That panel will review CRA's settlement, voluntary disclosure, and criminal referral policies.

 Lebouthillier said success in fighting tax evasion will rely on co-ordination with foreign countries.

The Isle of Man is one of four jurisdictions that will be targeted for audits. The others will not be revealed to keep taxpayers "guessing."

The clampdown comes after CBC News reported that CRA granted amnesty to multi-millionaire clients caught using what's been called an offshore tax "sham" on the Isle of Man.

The secret agreement offered a no-penalty, no-prosecution deal to high net worth clients of accounting giant KPMG involved in a questionable offshore tax scheme.

The clients only had to agree to pay their back taxes and modest interest on these offshore investments, which they had failed to report on their income tax returns.

The minister declined to say if she approved of that arrangement when repeatedly asked by reporters.

Panama Papers

Quebec Liberal MP François-Philippe Champagne said Isle of Man is the first targeted jurisdiction because $860 million in funds were transferred there in the last 12 months. Any transfer over $10,000 will be reviewed.

"These historic investments are going to help make sure we provide the tools and also the technology to identify those who are not paying their fair share of taxes in Canada," he said.

The government's plan follows the leak of millions of records from a Panamanian law firm revealing international schemes to use offshore tax havens by high-profile politicians, celebrities, athletes and drug smugglers. More than 400 journalists reviewed the so-called Panama Papers.