Newspaper headlines: Tax evasion, bonds 'bribe' and 'Twitter asbos'

The Guardian's very "word-heavy" front page is entirely taken up with details about what the paper calls "questionable practices" at a subsidiary of HSBC - one of the world's largest banks.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption HSBC whistleblower Herve Falciani

The paper says the financial institution's private Swiss bank "helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets, doling out bundles of untraceable cash and advising clients on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities".

The Guardian is one of a number of media groups (including the BBC's Panorama, Le Monde and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) who have collaborated to piece together the story revealed by many thousands of leaked Swiss bank documents, shedding light on 30,000 accounts containing £78bn in assets.

The paper explains that the leaks came to light when Swiss-based whistleblower Herve Falciani fled to France with hacked customer files which were eventually passed to French, British, American, Belgian, Argentinian and other tax authorities.

It adds: "HMRC received a list in 2010 from which it identified more than 1,000 tax evaders.

"More than £135m was quietly recovered in repayments, but only one person was prosecuted. There has been no UK legal action against HSBC. Names were never revealed."

Prominent celebrities, famous business figures and even royalty are said to feature on the lists of account holders, although merely holding an account in Switzerland is not illegal for UK taxpayers, providing it is declared with all gains made from it.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption London-based HSBC is the world's second biggest bank

Mr Falciani faces arrest for breaching secrecy laws if he returns to Switzerland.

HSBC has issued a lengthy response to the Guardian and Panorama's story, admitting its failures of "compliance and control" at the Swiss bank, which it acquired in 1999.

"The business acquired was not fully integrated into HSBC, allowing different cultures and standards to persist. Too many small and high-risk accounts were maintained. We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due diligence in HSBC's Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today."

In its statement, it continues: "We have taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards."

The Guardian comments: "The revelations will amplify calls for crackdowns on offshore tax havens and stoke political arguments in the US, Britain and elsewhere in Europe where exchequers are seen to be fighting a losing battle against fleet-footed and wealthy individuals in the globalised world."

'Generational theft'

The George Osborne's announcement on Sunday that he was to extend the "pensioner bond" scheme for three months in order to fulfil demand divides the press's opinion.

The bond scheme offers a one-year or three-year bond to over-65s for a minimum payment of £500 and a maximum of £10,000.

Pre-tax interest rates on the longer term bonds are fixed at 4%, far in advance of those available on the open market.

Image copyright George Osborne
Image caption George Osborne: rewarding savers who've suffered, or giving a "cynical pre-election bung"?

The Daily Telegraph says that 610,000 people have already bought up £7.5bn worth of the bonds. The new £5bn release, and extended timetable, should mean "one in 10 pensioners" would own one or more, it adds.

"The government said that sales figures for the bonds suggest they have been subject to the strongest demand of 'any retail product in Britain's modern history'," the paper notes.

The Telegraph notes that the policy has been condemned by many, including Conservative MP Dr Philip Lee who calls it ""inter-generational theft" because it excludes younger savers from its benefits.

The Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank says: "Borrowing more expensively than the government needs to is effectively a direct subsidy to wealthy pensioners from the working-age population.

"Pensioner bonds have never been anything other than a gimmick that will benefit pensioners at the expense of the taxpayer, and it beggars belief that the government is prolonging such a foolish policy."

However the Telegraph's leader column says the scheme is fair as record low interest rates meant that "savers, many of whom are older, have paid for the emergency measures to remedy a crisis they did nothing to cause".

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Bank of England has set its base rate at 0.5% since March 2009

To go a "little way to offsetting older savers' losses is not about bribery, but fairness", it adds.

The Times financial editor Patrick Hosking says the bond scheme is "a bungled pre-election bung".

Hosking says the chancellor bungled the measure by fixing the rates offered by the bonds before he had to, and at a time when market interest rates were expected to rise; he failed to understand the demand for them.

He also says the bond issue made it harder for banks and building societies to raise funds - thus pushing up the cost of borrowing - and Mr Osborne "overrode the purpose of National Savings & Investments whose aim is to borrow on the best terms for taxpayers".

Hosking adds that the chancellor could have borrowed money from the market at 0.3% but instead will be paying "silver surfers" 2.8%.

"In these 'austerity years', that sends out a confused message," he concludes.

'Serious concern'

Metro leads on calls from MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into anti-Semitism to hand out asbo-like powers to ban racists from social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The parliamentarians, the paper says, would like to see "prevention orders similar to those which can be used to restrict sex offenders' online access... applied to hate crimes".

Metro says the background to the call is an "alarming rise" in hate crime against Jewish Britons in the wake of this summer's fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Image copyright PA

"Data from the Metropolitan Police supplied to the panel showed that there were 306 anti-Semitic incidents and 236 offences in London between April and November last year," the paper adds.

The Daily Express's leader column says "social media networks are being used to spread hatred of Jewish people and this is something that cannot be tolerated".

It says "keeping culprits off certain websites" will not be enough to "reverse the growing tide of anti-Semitism" in itself.

But it says "Internet asbos" should be part of a "broader campaign" to clamp down on anti-Semitism and to "make clear that all aspects of racism are unacceptable".

The Independent says that the inquiry's chairman John Mann has met social media bosses and found Facebook a "willing partner" in its campaign, but expresses "serious concern" at Twitter and its complaints procedure.

"The report comes just days after the leak of a memo in which Twitter's California-based chief executive, Dick Costolo, acknowledged that the company 'sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls'," the paper notes.

It adds that the MPs want the government to look at research aimed at stopping "casual and unintended racism" that often comes with making "sweeping generalisations" about Jewish people.

"They say people who use the expression 'the Jewish lobby' or who refer to Jews as if they were an 'undifferentiated body, united in their support for Israel' are contributing to an atmosphere that encourages hostility to Jews," the paper explains.

'Home-grown talent'

If you peruse Monday's papers you will not fail to see acres of coverage of a glitzy little trade show in central London which was seemingly captured on film by every jobbing photographer working in Britain - the Baftas.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prof Stephen Hawking and his family attended the ceremony to see multiple wins for a film about his early life at Cambridge University

If this blog could be excused a little tabloid-style word-play, the papers' "main man" of the evening was undoubtedly Eddie Redmayne, and his female counterpart, the red-maned Julianne Moore.

Redmayne won Best Actor for his uncanny Stephen Hawking impression in The Theory Of Everything, while Moore picked up Best Actress for her role as an Alzheimer's diagnosed academic in Still Alice.

The Daily Telegraph says Redmayne's win (the picture also picked up the Outstanding British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay awards) "erases the memory" of his Bafta nightmare in 2013, where a bout of food poisoning left the actor vomiting in a corridor before he was due to present an award.

The Daily Mail's angle picks up not on the winners, but on Benedict Cumberbatch who lost out on awards despite three nominations for his role as wartime codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

The Mail adds: "The rivalry between Eton-educated Redmayne, 33, and Old Harrovian Cumberbatch, 38, has been one of the running themes of this year's awards season."

The Guardian's coverage headlines the Best Director gong for Richard Linklater.

The paper notes his film Boyhood - which follows the same actors over 12 years in real time - is "groundbreaking" and has "struck a chord with everyone who has seen it".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Reese Witherspoon in "that" dress

Actress Patricia Arquette, accepting the award for the absent director, said he had broken the rules of cinema and "made an ordinary story extraordinary".

You want details on what were once called the frocks? Well this blogger is not qualified to comment, but there are plenty in the red tops.

The Daily Mirror, which has a two-page line-up of lovely ladies (and classy gents), proclaims: "Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon stood out in bright berry-toned gowns slashed almost to the waist.

"Our home-grown talent didn't disappoint with Kristin Scott-Thomas leading the way in elegant black and Julie Walters sparkling in sequin."

The Sun's "fashion expert", suspiciously named as Yves Saint Sowrong, reckons Ms Witherspoon's purple Stella McCartney dress narrowly took the plaudits on the red carpet.

It "showed off her curves to perfection", observes "Yves".

Further analysis praises "Inbetweeners' beauty" Laura Haddock and The Borgias' star Holliday Grainger, but says Strictly Come Dancing host Claudia Winkelman's gown was more a "frocky horror than a ten from Len" and says Homelands' Nimrat Kaur looked like "something had exploded on her dress".

Too harsh "Yves", too harsh.

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