French prosecutors launch enquiry into HSBC Switzerland allegations

25 April 2013

The French authorities have opened an enquiry into whether the bank HSBC offered illegal products to help French clients avoid tax in Switzerland.

According to a statement from the Paris prosecutors’ office, the investigation is based on a client list taken from one of HSBC’s Swiss branches in 2009.

The list appears to be the one taken from HSBC Geneva by Herve Falciani, one of the bank’s former computer staff. The CD containing the names was seized by the French authorities during a search of Falciani’s home in the Midi, and has since been shared with many other national tax authorities.

Coincidentally, Falciani is now in Spain fighting extradition to Switzerland, where he is wanted for the theft of the CD. Until July 2012 he was living in France under a witness protection programme, but then left for Spain and was arrested on the Swiss warrant as he tried to disembark at Barcelona. The Spanish held him in custody until December, when he was released on bail to return for the extradition hearing. He could get seven years in jail if he is returned to Switzerland for trial, but the Spanish authorities are opposing extradition on the grounds that he is helping them detect Spanish tax evaders.

Falciani has told the Spanish court, the Audiencia Nacional, that he is really a whistleblower fighting against corruption in co-operation with the US Justice Department. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, he claimed he only went to Spain because US officials warned him his life was in danger in France. It is not clear from whom.

HSBC has refused to comment.






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