The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Geneva (AFP) – Banking giant HSBC faced damaging claims Monday that its Swiss division helped wealthy customers dodge millions of dollars in taxes after a “SwissLeaks” cache of secret files emerged online.

The documents published at the weekend claim the bank helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion.

The huge cache of files, which were stolen by an IT worker in 2007 and passed to French authorities, has sparked criminal probes in several countries and attempts to claw back the cash.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained the files via French newspaper Le Monde, and shared them with more than 45 other media organisations worldwide.

The documents showed that HSBC opened Swiss accounts for international criminals, businessmen, politicians and celebrities, according to the ICIJ.

The revelations are likely to stoke calls for a crackdown on sophisticated tax avoidance by the wealthy and by multinational companies, a key political issue across Europe.

Tax avoidance is legal, but tax evasion is not.

“HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channeled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws,” ICIJ reported.

A range of current and former politicians from Russia, India and a range of African countries, as well as Saudi, Bahraini, Jordanian and Moroccan royalty, and the late Australian press magnate Kerry Packer were named in the files.

Following the bombshell disclosure, there were calls for a Swiss probe against the bank, which is already facing prosecution in France and Belgium.

“I am angry,” former Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told public broadcaster RTS, claiming the scandal had seriously damaged Switzerland’s reputation.

HSBC shares sank 1.97 percent to 608.60 pence in early afternoon trading in London.

So far Switzerland has only launched an investigation against HSBC employee-turned-whistleblower Herve Falciani, who stole the files at the heart of the scandal.

The files were used by the French government to track down tax evaders and shared with other states in 2010, leading to a series of prosecutions.

British tax authorities said Monday they had brought in more than £135 million (181 million euros, $206 million) on the basis of the files.

HSBC’s Swiss banking arm insisted it has since undergone a “radical transformation”.

“HSBC’s Swiss Private Bank began a radical transformation in 2008 to prevent its services from being used to evade taxes or launder money,” Franco Morra, the head of HSBC’s Swiss unit, told AFP in an email.

He said the bank had closed the accounts of clients “who did not meet our high standards” and had “strong compliance controls in place,” adding that the disclosures were “a reminder that the old business model of Swiss private banking is no longer acceptable.”

The Swiss Banking Association said the country’s banks had worked hard in recent years to clean up shop and ensure conformity with tax laws.

If they don’t follow the law “they have to take the consequences,” the association said in a statement to AFP.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin demanded Monday that no mercy be shown to the bank or its tax-cheating clients.

“We must be uncompromising with these fraudsters of the past, we must be uncompromising with those who helped them with their fraud and even sometimes organised it for them,” Sapin told AFP on the sidelines of a G20 finance minister meeting in Istanbul.

Notes in the leaked files indicate HSBC workers were aware of clients’ intentions to keep money hidden from national authorities.

Of one Danish account holder collecting cash bundles of kroner, an employee wrote: “All contacts through one of her three daughters living in London. Account holder living in Denmark, is critical as it is a criminal act having an account abroad non declared.”

The files provide details on over 100,000 HSBC clients, including people targeted by U.S. sanctions, such as Turkish businessman Selim Alguadis and Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Inclusion on the list does not automatically imply wrongdoing.

Alguadis told the ICIJ it was prudent to keep savings offshore, while a spokesman for Timchenko said he was fully compliant with tax matters.

Other individuals named on the list include Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, designer Diane von Furstenberg, who told the ICIJ the accounts were inherited from her parents, and model Elle Macpherson, whose lawyers told the ICIJ she was fully in compliance with UK tax law.

Motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi, listed as having $23.9 million in two accounts, said he had regularised his tax situation with Italian authorities.

Photo: A cache of leaked secret bank files from 2005 to 2007 showed that HSBC provided accounts to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, politicians and celebrities (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Donald Trump

Image via Twitter

A year after former President Donald Trump left the White House and Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States, Trump continues to have considerable influence in the Republican Party. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former Trump critic turned Trump sycophant, recently told Fox News that having a “working relationship” with Trump must be a litmus test for anyone in a GOP leadership role in Congress. But an NBC News poll, conducted in January 14-18, 2022, finds that many Republican voters identify as Republicans first and Trump supporters second.

Analyzing that poll in the New York Times on January 21, reporters Leah Askarinam and Blake Hounshell, explain, “Buried in a new survey published today is a fascinating nugget that suggests the Republican Party may not be as devoted to Trump as we’ve long assumed. Roughly every month for the last several years, pollsters for NBC News have asked: ‘Do you consider yourself to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?’ Over most of that time, Republicans have replied that they saw themselves as Trump supporters first.”

Keep reading... Show less

Ivanka Trump, right

Image via @Huffington Post

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s select committee on the January 6, 2021 insurrection moves along, it is examining Ivanka Trump’s actions that day — especially the former White House senior adviser urging her father, then- President Donald Trump, to call off his supporters when the U.S. Capitol Building was under attack. This week, Ivanka Trump’s importance to the committee is examined in a column by liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent and an article by blogger Marcy Wheeler.

Sargent notes that the committee’s “new focus on Ivanka Trump” shows that it “is developing an unexpectedly comprehensive picture of how inextricably linked the violence was to a genuine plot to thwart a legitimately elected government from taking power.”

Keep reading... Show less
x
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}