Investigations into the recently released HBSC files have led to global inquiry and are resulting in massive tax settlements. French authorities gave these files to the Revenue Commissioners in 2010 and have recently uncovered relations with clients that include blood diamond traffickers, third- world dictator affiliates, arms dealers selling to African children soldiers, and even links to Al- Qaeda leaders. The Swiss branch of one of the largest national banks released these files that are being found to show corruption.
Despite the large quatity of files, the Revenue Commissioners have concluded that there is not enough information to justify a suit over HBSC. Having a Swiss bank account is entirely legal. The Irish people with these accounts include some major public figures and investment funds. However, there is also a group of Irish people were included in a scheme with the Revenue regarding offshore deposits in 2004.
The HBSC responded to these investigations be admitting their standard were not up to a level that they should have been. They also claimed that they were working hard to improve these standards, saying that they have “taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.” They also said that their client base was reduced by 70% from 2007. They attributed this to their recent “repositioning”.
It was a former employee, Hervé Falciani, who illegally copied the files in 2006. Falciani was found guilty a year ago in Switzerland for industrial espionage and violating bank secrecy.
The files held personal information including addresses, names, and account balances as well as noted contacts with bank clients. One of the contacts stated a clients concern with privacy and HBSC assuring him that his account information would not end up in the hands of the authorities. Another client was told by the bank to move his interests to an offshore company. The banks response stated that would not be able to discuss individual customers.
Financial experts believe that this offshore company is a major threat to democratic systems and institutions. Thomas Piketty, a French economist, said “Financial opacity is one of the key drivers of rising global equality.”
The leaked files are related to accounts with balances over $100 billion. The accounts are affiliated with over 100,000 customers in over 200 countries. The international bank is headquartered in London and originally insisted the data must be deleted.
The data shows numerable instances of questionable client behavior. Often including clients who are trying to avoid paying taxes in their country of citizenship, thus their accounts are undeclared to their country’s government. Countries that received these files include the U.S., Spain, Germany, Greece, Italy, the U.K., India, Ireland, Argentina, and Belgium but only some countries are choosing to engage in further investigations.
These new allegations raise doubt about previous claims by the bank denying any corrupt affiliation with allowing clients to avoid taxes. Several countries are investigating these new findings that show HBSC’s recently released files show corruption within their clientele.
Written by Audrey Madden
Photo by – Kurtis Garbutt – Creativecommons flickr Lisence