HSBC has been accused of helping wealthy clients avoid paying millions of pounds in tax to governments around the world, including the UK.
The BBC says that it has seen details of nearly 7,000 bank accounts belonging to British clients from HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland, which were leaked by a whistleblower in 2007.
The files, which are reported to include details of accounts of over 100,000 clients from around the world with holdings worth more than $100 billion (£66bn), were leaked by an IT worker at HSBC Geneva. French newspaper Le Monde obtained the files and has shared them with a number of media organisations around the world, including BBC Panorama, The Guardian, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Offshore banking is not illegal, but HSBC admitted that some people took advantage of the secrecy rules surrounding Swiss banking to avoid paying tax. French authorities claim that 99.8% of French citizens whose bank details were leaked in the Geneva lists were probably using the services to avoid paying tax.
The ICIJ says the leaked documents shows some HSBC clients taking out large sums of cash in used notes from their Swiss accounts in Geneva, while others, who were known to traffic in blood diamonds, had large holdings with the bank.
Despite HMRC having access to the leaked data since 2010, only one tax evader has been prosecuted in the UK.
HSBC denies that its account holders were evading tax, but acknowledged 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 [at the time of the leak in 2007]than they are today.”