HSBC's Gulliver Faces Tax Probe After Losing Court Ruling

  • Judge rejects Gulliver’s application for ‘closure notice’
  • U.K. tax agency questioning bank CEO’s status in 2013-14

Stuart Gulliver

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

HSBC Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver, who has previously faced questions from British lawmakers over his personal taxes and offshore bank accounts, is being probed by U.K. revenue officials over his residency status.

Gulliver, 58, lost a bid to end a tax probe started in December 2015 into his earnings for the fiscal year through March 2014, according to a London court ruling dated March 13. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs isn’t making any allegations of impropriety against the HSBC CEO, a British resident who has spent significant time living in Asia, according to the ruling.

Stuart Gulliver

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The details of the enquiry come after HSBC was engulfed in a political storm two years ago when a British newspaper published leaked documents alleging the bank’s Swiss unit helped tax evaders, criminals and drug cartels. Gulliver was drawn into the so-called Swiss Leaks scandal after it emerged he parked money at the division through a Panamanian company.

“I pay millions of pounds of tax to HMRC at the top rate each year, as I should,” Gulliver told lawmakers on the U.K. Public Accounts Committee at the time in March 2015. The CEO said he has been U.K. tax resident since 2003 and that his “affairs are in order.”

The HMRC enquiry, which emerged in documents made public by the court this week, centers on where Gulliver was domiciled for the 2013-2014 tax year. The CEO argued that HMRC had previously accepted back in 2003 that he was domiciled in Hong Kong, however his application to close the probe was rejected by Judge Jonathan Richards. The ruling didn’t set out how much money was at stake or resolve Gulliver’s tax status.

HMRC has requested answers to 123 questions and asked for 33 categories of documents, involving a “examination of a number of aspects of his personal and professional life dating back to 1981,” according to Richards. HMRC says Gulliver hasn’t answered all their questions and it would be premature to close their inquiry, according to the ruling. 

“The hearing in question was an application for court guidance on a technical matter, being the effect of a tax ruling made at the time Mr. Gulliver was posted to London in 2003,” HSBC said in a statement. Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for HMRC, said the agency doesn’t comment on individual disputes.

U.K. rules have allowed some people to be permanent British residents while domiciled elsewhere for tax purposes.

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