HMRC has defended its executive chairman Edward Troup, after it was revealed that he worked for a law firm which advised offshore companies named in the Panama Papers leak.
The Guardian reported on Monday that Troup – who took over as head of HMRC earlier this month – was a former partner at Simmons & Simmons, whose clients included the Panama-registered Blairmore Holdings, the firm set up by prime minister David Cameron's late father Ian and whose affairs have come under scrutiny over the past week.
The paper reported that Simmons & Simmons' name featured on several documents in the leaked Panama Papers – although HMRC has stressed that Troup had never had "any dealings" with any of the individuals or organisations named so far in relation to the Panama Papers.
Panama Papers: Does HMRC have the resources to tackle offshore tax evasion?
HMRC's new chief exec Jon Thompson will report to Edward Troup, Treasury confirms
HMRC's executive chairman worked for Simmons & Simmons firm from 1997 until 2004, and The Guardian said that some of the correspondence included in the tranche of leaked documents dated back to 2003.
Responding to the report, HMRC said: "Before joining the civil service in 2004, Edward Troup had a successful career in the private sector, during the course of which he dealt with many companies.
"He can confirm that he never had any dealings with Mossack Fonseca, was unaware of the company until recently, and that none of the individuals or organisations named so far were clients that he advised.
"Edward Troup’s role in HMRC has never involved responsibility for operational activities or direct dealings with companies on their tax affairs. In any event, the governance in place at HMRC means that any commissioners who have a potential conflict of interest would exclude themselves from any investigation or settlement involving a taxpayer with which they had had dealings in their previous careers."
Before taking on the executive chairman role,Troup served as tax assurance commissioner, a role created in 2012 to try and strengthen HMRC's governance arrangements following public concern over the way the organisation handled large settlements. He acted as the final point of approval for the biggest settlements and published an annual report setting out how HMRC resolved tax disputes.
New tax taskforce
The scrutiny of Troup comes after ministers announced that HMRC would lead a new, cross-government tax taskforce to investigate the Panama revelations.
The taskforce will be bring together officials from HMRC and the National Crime Agency, and will also include investigators and compliance specialists from the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority.
According to the Treasury, the new taskforce will have "initial new funding of up to £10 million" to support its work.
HMRC meanwhile said it was already investigating 700 leads with a link to Panama, and the tax authority has written to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to request access to the leaked documents in order to cross-reference details with its own "Connect" database.
Announcing the taskforce, Cameron – who has faced intense scrutiny of his own tax affairs, prompting the publication of a summary of his tax return over the weekend – said: "The UK has been at the forefront of international action to tackle the global scourge of aggressive tax avoidance and evasion, and international corruption more broadly.
"There is clearly further to go and this taskforce will bring together the best of British expertise to deal with any wrongdoing relating to the Panama Papers.
"This world-class operation will report to the Chancellor and the Home Secretary on their strategy for taking action later this year, when we will update parliament."
Cameron is expected to give more detail on the government's response to the Panama Papers when he makes a statement to MPs at 3:30pm today.