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ANALYSIS - Questions raised from arrest of KPMG accountants

The Belfast office of KPMG. Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker 

ALLEGATIONS that Belfast-based partners at one of the world's biggest accountancy firms were involved in tax evasion will have wide reaching ramifications.

The business world was left agog at the news that greeted them over their cornflakes yesterday morning, leading to a flurry of gossip not experienced since the £7 million Nama fixer fee scandal broke in the summer.

KPMG is one of the so-called 'big four' auditors, alongside EY, Deloitte and PwC.

As such, Wednesday's revelations made headlines as far away as the United States, Holland and Hungary.

The company has more than 80 partners across Ireland but the four detained in a swoop by HMRC officials were among the most senior.

Having amassed around a century at the company between, the men - who have since been put on leave by the firm - include its Belfast chairman and two department heads.

And one of the men Eamonn Donaghy has for the last 20 years has been at the forefront of championing the case for lowering corporation tax in the north.

It was understand on Thursday, PMG was drafting in help from other offices to make up for their absence.

British based tax and economics blogger Richard Murphy said disputes between tax authorities and large accountancy firms were "common enough".

"But the decision by HM Revenue and Customs to visit the Belfast offices of KPMG .... and arrest four senior partners there for questioning on suspected tax evasion is a most unusual development and one which creates a serious issue for the firm and, of course, for the individuals themselves," he added.

"The HM Revenue and Customs has picked high-profile targets."

The foursome's arrests also raise questions for government departments in the north.

On Thursday, KPMG distanced itself from HMRC's investigations, saying it had no indication the allegations were in connection to the company or its clients.

But the men have advised government and public bodies - including the Northern Ireland Policing Board - on prominent legal and financial issues.

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