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HSBC 'helped clients dodge tax'.

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.

Geneva -- Banking giant HSBC faced damaging claims on 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 (e1/4104 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 the BBC and The Guardian newspaper in Britain, US programme 60 Minutes and more than 45 other media organisations worldwide.

The documents showed that HSBC provided accounts to 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 channelled 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 former and current 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 1.87 per cent to 609.20 pence in midday trade in London.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Feb 9, 2015
Words:361
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