Swiss bank accounts leaks: HSBC admits to past lapses

Amid a global expose revealing tax dodging through accounts in its Swiss bank, British major HSBC has admitted to past lapses even as it claimed that rigorous control are now in place to curb illicit fund flows.

hidden February 10, 2015 20:20:50 IST
Swiss bank accounts leaks: HSBC admits to past lapses

London: Amid a global expose revealing tax dodging through accounts in its Swiss bank, British major HSBC has admitted to past lapses even as it claimed that rigorous control are now in place to curb illicit fund flows.

Asserting that it has taken significant steps over the past years, HSBC said its Swiss private bank has witnessed almost 70 percent decline in its client base since 2007.

Swiss bank accounts leaks HSBC admits to past lapses

Reuters

Details of more than 1,00,000 account holders around the world, including over 1,000 from India, have been revealed through a joint investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

"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," HSBC said in an email statement.

"We are also cooperating with relevant authorities investigating these matters and we acknowledge and are
accountable for past control failure," it noted.

When contacted, HSBC did not offer any immediate comment on the expose but provided the note prepared recently.

"The bank has taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards, including those where we had concerns in relation to tax compliance. As a result of this repositioning, HSBC's Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70 percent since 2007," it added.

Former and current politicians from India are among international clients helped by HSBC to evade taxes with offshore accounts in Switzerland, according to leaked documents revealing the inner workings of HSBC's Swiss private banking arm.

The Narendra Modi-led government in India had made it an election pledge to trace and bring back the missing millions held corruptly in Swiss accounts.

These documents also reveal that HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channelled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws.

The leaked files relate to accounts holding more than $100 billion, as per ICIJ.

The documents, stolen in 2007 by a computer expert working for HSBC in Geneva, contain details of more than 100,000 clients from around the world and was obtained by the French newspaper 'Le Monde'.

These documents have now been passed on to the ICIJ, the 'Guardian' newspaper, BBC's 'Panorama', 'The Indian Express' and over 50 other media outlets around the world.

"The secret files are a version of the ones the French government obtained and shared with other governments in 2010, leading to prosecutions or settlements with individuals for tax evasion in several countries.

"Nations whose tax authorities received the French files include the US, Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Britain, Ireland, India, Belgium and Argentina," it said.

Even though it stressed its commitment to the exchange of information with relevant authorities, HSBC said that however, "providing client data to foreign authorities would itself constitute a criminal offence under Swiss law".

Since 2008, HSBC began to put a more rigorous control structure in place in the Swiss private bank, it said.

According to the ICIJ report, clients who held HSBC Bank accounts in Switzerland include former and current politicians from Britain, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kenya, Romania, India, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Lebanon, Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Paraguay, Djibouti,
Senegal, Philippines and Algeria.

ICIJ claims that HSBC, which is headquartered in London and has offices in 74 nations and territories on six continents, first insisted that the data be destroyed before issuing a statement.

The bank now faces criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina and says it is cooperating with the authorities.

Experts conservatively estimate that $7.6 trillion is held in overseas tax havens, costing government treasuries at least $200 billion a year.

ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said the world of offshore finance and secret bank accounts is deliberately complex, driven by an intricate network that crosses multiple jurisdictions. "Large-scale cross-border investigations are the only way to investigate this world in depth, and uncover the layers of secrecy,” Ryle said.

PTI

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