Swiss leaks: HSBC admits lapses, Ambanis deny having illegal accounts



LONDON/NEW DELHI With a global leak revealing tax evasion through offshore accounts in its Swiss branch, UK-based global banking giant HSBC on Monday admitted there have been lapses in the past on its part.

“We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due diligence in HSBC s Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today,” HSBC said.

“The bank has taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards, including those where we had concerns in relation to tax compliance. As a result of this repositioning, HSBC s Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70 per cent since 2007,” it added.

Former and current politicians from India are among international clients helped by HSBC to evade taxes with offshore accounts in Switzerland, according to leaked documents revealing the inner workings of HSBC s Swiss private banking arm.

The Narendra Modi led government in India had made it an election pledge to trace and bring back the missing millions held corruptly in Swiss accounts. The list of Indians on the leaked list handed over to the government is being estimated at over thousand.

The documents also reveal that HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channelled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws.

The documents, stolen in 2007 by a computer expert working for HSBC in Geneva, contain details of more than 100,000 clients from around the world and was obtained by the French newspaper Le Monde.

In a joint investigation, the documents have now been passed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Guardian, BBC’s “Panorama” and more than 50 media outlets around the world.

“The secret files are a version of the ones the French government obtained and shared with other governments in 2010, leading to prosecutions or settlements with individuals for tax evasion in several countries. Nations whose tax authorities received the French files include the US, Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Britain, Ireland, India, Belgium and Argentina,” said the ICIJ report.

“Clients who held HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland include former and current politicians from Britain, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kenya, Romania, India, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Lebanon, Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Paraguay, Djibouti, Senegal, Philippines and Algeria,” it added.

ICIJ claims that HSBC, which is headquartered in London and has offices in 74 nations and territories on six continents, first insisted that the data be destroyed before issuing a statement.

The bank now faces criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina and says it is cooperating with the authorities.

Experts conservatively estimate that $7.6 trillion is held in overseas tax havens, costing government treasuries at least $200 billion a year. Ambanis, Jet chief Goyal deny having illegal Swiss bank accounts

Top industrialists the Ambani brothers and Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal, on Monday denied having illegal Swiss bank accounts in the wake of leaked list of account holders of HSBC brought out by an international body of journalists. “There is no black (money) … There is nothing to hide, nothing to worry. (I am) following all regulations and rules,” Goyal told reporters in New Delhi.

A Reliance Industries spokesperson said: “Neither Reliance Industries nor Mr Mukesh Ambani have or had any illegitimate bank accounts anywhere in the world.”

Similarly, a spokesperson for Anil Ambani said: “Mr Ambani does not have any HSBC overseas account.”

Former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane also denied having any account in Swiss banks by him or any of his family members.

“Earlier my name had also come, there is no truth in it. Neither me nor my wife nor my family have any account abroad,” he said.

Spokespersons of Emaar MGF and Dabur group-promoter family Burmans did not comment. Name of many prominent industrialists had featured in the report by Indian Express, which said that 1,195 Indian names figure in the HSBC list with a total balance of Rs 25,420 crore, as part of an investigation by an international body of journalists.

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