HSBC’s dirty little secrets
The detailed exposure in recent weeks of tens of thousands of accounts lodged at the Swiss subsidiary of British banking giant HSBC has uncovered secretive financial activities of some 120 000 clients
part f rom it s chocolates and expensive ski resorts, Switzerland is probably best known for its exceptionally discreet banks such as the HSBC, which has branches in 74 countries.
But all that changed in 2007 when Hervé Falciani, t he bank ’s former computer specialist, pulled off one of the most dramatic heists in history. Falciani f led to Lebanon with a database of 120 000 encrypted f iles and tried to sell the data to various bankers. His plan went awry and news of the theft reached Switzerland.
Despite Switzerland ’s pleas for extradition, Spain and France have protected him because of the value of his information, which has resulted in numerous tax evasion investigations and prosecutions.
The files were first leaked to French newspaper Le Monde; then to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – a network of journalists around the world who exposed the list of names last week.
The documents show that terrorists, tax evaders, drug cartels, corrupt arms dealers and blood diamond traders all made full use of the bank’s (former) secrecy policies to launder and hide money.
Records detai l t r a nsactions of more than 120 000 people from 203 countries, involving $119bn (R1.3tr). Of t hese, 585 were South African with a total of $2.09bn tucked away at HSBC. This in itself is no indication of wrongdoing – it is legal to hold a Swiss bank account as long as regulations are adhered to and the correct taxes are paid.