HSBC ‘helped customers avoid millions in tax’ through Swiss operations

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A joint investigation by the BBC’s Panorama and other European media outlets based on thousands of documents from the company’s private Swiss bank found that some clients were able to keep money out of reach of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

As a result of a probe by the HMRC, some £135 million in unpaid tax, interest and penalties have since been handed over by the British citizens involved, it is claimed.

The documents were stolen by a computer expert in 2007 and have now been leaked to the BBC and its partners, detail the Swiss accounts of more than 100,000 people from around the world, including just under 7,000 British citizens.

According to the BBC, a French investigation concluded that 99.8% of the French people on the list had probably avoided paying tax.


It said HMRC was given the information in 2010 and subsequently decided that 1,100 British people had not paid enough tax. However, only one tax evader was prosecuted in the UK.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, said: “I just don’t think the tax authorities have been strong enough, assertive enough, brave enough, tough enough in securing for the British taxpayer the monies that are due.”

BBC Panorama said HSBC was now facing criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina, but not in the UK.

HSBC denied that all the Swiss account holders had evaded tax and said it was “co-operating with relevant authorities”.


It said: “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 been fully compliant with their applicable tax obligations. We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures.

“We have taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.

“HSBC’s Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70% since 2007.”

The report is a further blow to the banking sector, which has been trying to rebuild its reputation after the financial crisis.

HSBC shares were off around 1.7% in early trading, while Lloyds and Standard Chartered were down 1.4% and 2%, respectively.

Barclays, which is to face more scrutiny in the US after the Department of Justice widened its probe into foreign exchange markets, according to the Financial Times, fell 2%.

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February 9, 2015 |
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