A man who suffered life-changing injuries from Gaddafi-IRA Semtex has slammed the government for refusing to say how much it has creamed off from £12bn assets linked to the former dictator since they were frozen in 2011.
After months of pressure by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed in June that it has taken £17m in tax from the assets since the start of the 2016-17 tax year.
More than 150 victims of Semtex explosive supplied by Libya to the IRA are campaigning for compensation from the north African state. Libya has already paid compensation to French, German and American victims of terror attacks it sponsored.
However, MPs on the NIAC have accused the UK of failing to press for the same compensation for its own citizens.
When asked under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the full amount it has taken in tax each year since 2011, HMRC declined to say, citing its “statutory duty of taxpayer confidentiality” and expressing concern the information could be used to identify the “person” holding the assets. It also said the cost of collating the information would be too high, only offering that it currently receives around £5m per year in tax.
However, UUP peer Lord Empey, who has been campaigning for the victims, described HMRC’s response as “very puzzling”.
“If they have received £17m since 2016/17, the question is what did they receive before that?” he asked. “It’s hard to believe this revenue stream suddenly started in that year alone.”
What he and other campaigners want to know, he said, is “how any of it [the tax] is going to get to the victims and their families”.
Stephen Gault, who was seriously injured in the IRA’s Poppy Day Bomb of 1987, said it was “once again the government trying to withhold money from victims”.
“This is not about money, it is about acknowledgement for victims,” he said. “But it would help to give me a financially secure future as I have not been able to hold down a job for 12 years due to my injuries.”