Posted: Wednesday September 21, 2011 12:04AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 21, 2011 12:04AM

British officials target soccer in crackdown on taxes

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LONDON (AP) -- Britain's tax authority has launched a clampdown on tax evasion in soccer to ensure players are not dodging payments during the country's economic turmoil.

A 100-member "affluence team" is being put in place by the British government to scrutinize the tax affairs of the estimated 350,000 people whose personal wealth exceeds $3.95 million, including many Premier League players.

Offenders could receive extra tax bills if it is discovered they worked around the tax system.

A specialist team within Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is particularly investigating if players are exploiting a loophole during transfers by getting their agents' fees paid by the buying club or a third party.

"HMRC are aware of a potential tax issue concerning the payment of agent fees and are taking steps to ensure the tax rules are respected," the tax authority said in a statement to The Associated Press.

"When a third party pays a fee to an agent acting on behalf of an employee, the fee may count as part of the employee's taxable earnings and so be liable to tax," the HMRC statement added.

Some 2,000 extra tax inspectors are being hired to make sure that Britain's wealthiest are paying their full liabilities.

"The government has made 917 million pounds ($1.4 billion) available to HMRC to ensure that tax rules are adhered to across the board," HMRC said.

British Treasury's Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, told Sky News that tax evasion and avoidance is "morally indefensible".

Accountants are seeing high-earners being targeted.

"We do see that HMRC are more enthusiastically checking the tax affairs of those areas of society that are tax rich, like the oil companies and certain individuals who are tax rich with large incomes," said Derek Hill, a tax partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse. "Footballers are a prime example of that."

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