US government faces pressure after biggest leak in banking history | The Guardian

HSBC bank branchThe US government will come under intense pressure this week to explain what action it took after receiving a massive cache of leaked data that revealed how the Swiss banking arm of HSBC, the world’s second-largest bank, helped wealthy customers conceal billions of dollars of assets.

The leaked files, which reveal how HSBC advised some clients on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities, were obtained through an international collaboration of news outlets, including the Guardian, the French daily Le Monde, CBS 60 Minutes and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The files reveal how HSBC’s Swiss private bank colluded with some clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from domestic tax authorities across the world and provided services to international criminals and other high-risk individuals.

The disclosure amounts to one of the biggest banking leaks in history shedding light on some 30,000 accounts holding almost $120bn (£78bn) of assets. Of those, around 2,900 clients were connected to the US, providing the IRS with a trail of evidence of potential American taxpayers who may have been hiding assets in Geneva.

The data was leaked by a computer expert turned whistleblower working in HSBC’s Geneva office. French authorities later obtained the files and shared them with the US Internal Revenue Service in 2010. That year, amid growing scrutiny from US tax authorities, HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland stopped doing business with US residents entirely.

The US Department of Justice and IRS have been investigating HSBC’s Swiss banking operations ever since but the scale of those inquiries remain unclear.

Confronted by the Guardian’s evidence, HSBC admitted wrongdoing by its Geneva-based subsidiary. “We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures,” the bank said in a statement. The Swiss arm, the statement said, had not been fully integrated into HSBC after its purchase in 1999, allowing “significantly lower” standards of compliance and due diligence to persist. Read more…

Source: The Guardian

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