HSBC ‘helped clients evade taxes’


Published: Monday 9th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Britain’s biggest bank HSBC faced claims that it helped clients evade taxes after some of the contents of a huge trove of leaked account files about secret Swiss accounts were published.

The documents had already sparked criminal probes in several countries and attempts to claw back cash after being stolen by an IT worker in 2007 and passed to French authorities.

Now the details of 30,000 accounts holding almost £78 billion of assets are being revealed after they were obtained by a French newspaper and analysed by a team of investigative journalists.

They are reported – by BBC’s Panorama and the Guardian – to include evidence that the bank colluded with some clients to hide accounts from tax authorities on their home countries.

Among those alleged to have been exposed as having accounts with the Swiss arm of HSBC are said to be politicians, sports stars and celebrities as well as criminals and traffickers.

Holding a secret bank account is not illegal but they have been used by some to deliberately conceal assets in order to dodge tax, which is against the law.

The BBC said the documents include details of almost 7,000 British clients.

HM Revenue and Customs, which was passed the data in 2010, has clawed back £135 million from some of the 3,600 Britons identified as potentially avoiding tax using the Geneva branch of HSBC.

But it has faced complaints from MPs over its slow progress and the fact that there has only been one prosecution of an evader to date.

In a statement the bank said that since the period in question, it had “implemented numerous initiatives designed to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money”.

It said: “Although there are numerous legitimate reasons to have a Swiss bank account, in some cases individuals took advantage of bank secrecy to hold undeclared accounts.

“This resulted in private banks, including HSBC’s Swiss private bank, having a number of clients that may not have fully met their applicable tax obligations.

“We have 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,” it added.

“We are fully committed to the exchange of information with relevant authorities and are actively pursuing measures that ensure clients are tax transparent, even in advance of a regulatory or legal requirement to do so.

“We are also co-operating with relevant authorities investigating these matters and we acknowledge and are accountable for past control failures.”

Shadow financial secretary to the treasury Cathy Jamieson said: “HMRC were made fully aware of these practices back in 2010. There are serious questions for the Chancellor to answer about why just one person out of over a thousand have been prosecuted in five years.

“And why the Government’s Swiss tax deal has been such an embarrassing flop, raising a fraction of the amounts initially boasted of by ministers.”

“Tax avoidance and evasion harms every taxpayer in Britain, and undermines public services like the NHS.”

Published: Monday 9th February 2015 by The News Editor

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