The private-banking unit of HSBC Holdings Plc made significant profits for years handling secret accounts whose holders included drug cartels, arms dealers, tax evaders and fugitive diamond merchants, according to a report released Sunday by an international news organization.
HSBC is among a handful of banks to face criminal prosecution in recent years for its role in a Swiss banking system that allowed depositors to conceal their identities, and in many cases dodge taxes or launder ill-gotten cash. The report, prepared by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, revealed for the first time the massive sweep of HSBC’s private-banking arm as of 2007, when it controlled $100 billion in assets and served a swath of wealthy depositors from the elite to the illicit.
A whole hell of a lot of tax money got dodged thanks to these guys, and it may be time to pay the piper very soon.
The report is based on a list of HSBC clients from around that time that a onetime employee took from the bank and turned over to European officials, sparking tax investigations from Argentina to France, Belgium and Greece. While some of the list’s names have emerged before, Sunday’s report drew from a more comprehensive list of accounts associated with more than 100,000 people and legal entities from more than 200 nations, ranging from the legitimate to the illicit.
“These revelations confirm that banking secrecy has been used to avoid taxation,” Vanessa Mock, a European Union spokeswoman for tax affairs, said Monday.
Depositors included royal families and convicted cocaine dealers, ambassadors and terror suspects, entertainers and elected officials, corporate executives and athletes. To these and other clients, the bank actively promoted its accounts as an efficient way to hide assets from tax collectors, according to the report.
Bet long on tumbrels, guillotines, and various flavored popcorn. Suddenly these tax loopholes are looking like very tasty sources of government income, at least in Europe.
In America, well, not so much, I’d think. We’ll see.