France rejects UK claim over HSBC files

France's Finance Minister Michel Sapin rejected on Friday an accusation from British authorities claiming that France barred them from accessing leaked HSBC files containing the names of thousands of alleged tax evaders.

France rejects UK claim over HSBC files
HSBC Private Bank helped hundreds of French nationals dodge taxes, new revelations claim. Photo: AFP

Sapin was forced to defend the actions of the French government after a UK tax chief and senior Tory politician claimed British authorities were denied access to the leaked files so they could pursue legal action.

Tax Office boss Lyn Homer told the UK parliament on Friday that their hands were tied by treaties signed with France, the Guardian newspaper reports.

Tory treasury minister David Gauke backed up those claims and said France only allowed them access to the files on Monday the day after the allegations that HSBC Private Bank in Switzerland had helped over 100,000 people evade tax, made headlines around the world.

But in an interview with Le Monde newspaper French minister Sapin dismissed the British version of events.

“I have not understood the comments made by the British authorities. The data on HSBC was transmitted to them in 2010, in the framework of the bilateral conventions that bind us. Nothing has been said to them since.

"These conventions do restrict the use of the information to tax purposes.

“But if the British tax office wants to bring court cases, it is entitled to do so. The rest is a matter of judicial co-operation.”

The details of the tax fraudsters hit international headlines on Sunday, where in France it was revealed that around 6,000 rich French lawyers, artists, businessmen and even a World Cup winner dodged taxes. 

French newspaper Le Monde played a leading role in revealing the details of the scam, which saw HSBC helping clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (€104 billion).

The French paper, which obtained files leaked by a whistleblower, shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which comprises dozens of media organisations worldwide.

Meet the whistleblower behind the leaks – France's Edward Snowden

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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.