Investigators target the super-rich for paying too little tax

Huge leak reveals elite's secret assets
Huge leak reveals elite's secret assets

One in three super-rich Brits is under investigation for paying too little tax.

The British revenue office said Tuesday that the total unpaid tax from the country's 6,500 richest people could amount to £1.9 billion ($2.3 billion).

The office said it has more to do with tax avoidance and the interpretation of complex tax law than outright tax evasion.

Roughly £1.1 billion of the missing £1.9 billion has disappeared in tax avoidance schemes, which are fairly common among the super-rich. Authorities estimate that roughly 15% of them have used at least one avoidance scheme.

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Related: The rich who owe no income tax

Many tactics used to pay less tax are legal. For example, there are legitimate reasons for opening an offshore bank account or diverting money into trust funds. Wealthy people do it to manage their investment portfolios or protect assets. But it can also help them shield money from the tax collector.

Governments around the world are cracking down, including by passing laws that require citizens to disclose foreign accounts.

In 2009, the U.K. set up a special unit looking at the tax affairs of people worth more than £20 million, a group comprising about 6,500 people. The approach proved effective: The unit recovered £416 million in unpaid tax last year.

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