HSBC files are ‘just tip of iceberg’: Whistleblower

This week's explosive claims that 100,000 people around the world used HSBC Private Bank in Switzerland to evade the eyes of the tax man is just the "tip of the iceberg", the French whistleblower behind the leaks claimed on Tuesday.

HSBC files are 'just tip of  iceberg': Whistleblower
HSBC Private Bank helped thousands of French nationals dodge taxes. Photo: Beat Strasser/Flickr
Hervé Falciani, a former computer analyst at HSBC in Switzerland, made headlines again on Tuesday after claiming that the revelations published about 100,000 tax fraudsters featuring sportsmen, kings, politicians and performers, were nothing more than the tip of the iceberg.
"There's a lot more than what the journalists have seen," he told French newspaper Le Parisien.
Falciani said that the original documents he handed France's then Finance Minister Christine Lagarde back in 2008 contained "several million transactions". He said that "these figures give an idea of how big the iceberg actually is".
The Frenchman of Italian origins, who compares himself to James Bond and has been likened to Edward Snowden, had leaked secret files – which came to be known as "the Lagarde list" – to French authorities after fleeing his job in the Swiss bank.
Up until Sunday the files were only thought to contain details of French nationals such as high profile comedian Gad Elmaleh.
But then Le Monde newspaper and other publications around the world including The Guardian, published further details of the list they say contains information about 106,000 people around the world who deposited a total of €180 billion in Swiss accounts in a massive tax evasion scheme. 

(Former HSBC employee Hervé Falciani. Photo: AFP)
Falciani told Le Parisien that the "rest of the information" that is currently in the hands of the French tax administration also contains account numbers, names of offshore companies involved, phone numbers and message history between clients and the banks.
The latest documents contained the names of 6,300 French nationals, who deposited around €5.8 billion out of sight of the French taxman.
"The holders of the accounts are striking in their variety, Le Monde writes. "French surgeons wishing to launder undeclared fees rub shoulders with… Belgian diamond traders and Al-Qaeda funders."
The bank had already been placed under formal investigation in France accused of "money laundering the proceeds of tax evasion".

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HSBC to pay France €300million to avoid tax fraud trial

HSBC Private Bank, a Swiss unit of banking giant HSBC, has agreed to pay 300 million euros ($352 million) to avoid going to trial in France for enabling tax fraud, prosecutors said Tuesday.

HSBC to pay France €300million to avoid tax fraud trial
Photo: AFP

HSBC was accused last year of helping French clients to hide at least 1.67 billion euros from the tax authorities, according to a source close to the probe.

The deal struck between the financial crime prosecutor's office and the bank is a first in France under a new procedure that allows companies under
suspicion of corruption or dissimulation of tax fraud to negotiate a fine to stop a case from going to trial.

The deal does not include a guilty plea.

French prosecutors have now dropped the case against HSBC Holdings.

The case against HSBC was opened back in 2015 and was over an alleged global tax-dodging scheme that helped hundreds of French nationals and pothers around the world evade the tax man.

Investigators believe that HSBC's private banking division offered its customers several ways of hiding assets from the French taxman, notably via the use of offshore tax havens.

The banking giant was at first accused of failing in its supervisory role over its private banking division, but further investigation led to suspicions
that HSBC “participated actively in the fraudulent practices”, the source close to the investigation said.

The probe named the former chief executive of the bank's Swiss private banking arm, Peter Braunwalder, and another executive, Judah Elmaleh.

The case began when French authorities in late 2008 received files stolen by Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee, whose disclosures sparked the so-called “Swissleaks” scandal on bank-supported tax evasion.

The French-Italian national — dubbed by some media as “The Edward Snowden of banking” — leaked a cache of documents allegedly indicating that HSBC helped more than 120,000 clients of a number of nationalities to hide 180.6 billion euros from tax authorities between November 2006 and March 2007.

He was sentenced in absentia in November in Switzerland to five years in prison. The leaked files led to investigations by tax authorities in several European countries including, in addition to France, Spain and Belgium.