About 200 London chefs suspected of accepting backhanders from food suppliers are under investigation by the Inland Revenue.

Suppliers are helping the Inland Revenue in its purge on tax-dodging chefs who take gratuities with their purchase orders.

Between 20 and 30 are understood to have provided information, and because they are co-operating with the Inland Revenue, they are not under investigation themselves.

Ivan Shenkman, managing director of food buyer Purchasing Systems, said: "Suppliers generally don't like doing it, but some wouldn't have a business otherwise." One supplier added: "I've lost contracts because I won't pay and the other guy will."

Up to six high-profile chefs have already been investigated.

In the next two weeks, the Inland Revenue's fraud squad, the Manchester-based Special Compliance Office, will send letters to more suspected head chefs inviting them to face the accusations.

David Pert, director of tax investigations at tax consultancy WJB Chiltern, said that most cases involved paying back the tax owed plus a fine of up to 50% of the amount. He added: "If people don't take the opportunity to put their house in order they could face prosecution two years down the line."

Evading more than £100,000 of tax carries a prison sentence.

Some employers have known about the practice for many years, but unless a chef is caught red-handed, it is almost impossible to prove.

by Ben Walker

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 29 August 2002

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