A slew of 30,000 leaked Swiss HSBC account details has revealed the practices of the organisation and its customers. And it doesn't look pretty. The Guardian calls the "biggest banking leak in history".
The leaked files, which you can explore online, reveal the use of Swiss bank accounts by actors, footballers, politicians, business owners and more to avoid paying tax to the relevant authorities. The Guardian, which has helped leak the documents along with Le Monde, BBC Panorama and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, writes that the "Swiss operation actively abetted clients in keeping accounts secret from tax authorities, at its height hiding $120bn in assets."
The files were originally hacked by Hervé Falciani, an IT expert working at HSBC's Swiss bank. He fled to France though, after being detained, and was not extradited back to Switzerland, because authorities were concerned that he could reveal the identities of thousands of French tax evaders. While some authorities around the world have since received details from the leaked documents, the majority of the names have never become public, until now.
The news outlets are making the list of account holders from 2007 public. In fact, you can happily browse through a selection of the most interesting ones—from Elle MacPherson to Flavio Briatore, Phil Collins to Christian Slater. Of course, the big names add colour, but the real story here is about HSBC itself.
The Guardian explains how memos from the leak reveal a long and serious history of malpractice at the bank. It "routinely allowed clients to withdraw bricks of cash, often in foreign currencies of little use in Switzerland", "aggressively marketed schemes likely to enable wealthy clients to avoid European taxes", "colluded with some clients to conceal undeclared "black" accounts from their domestic tax authorities" and "provided accounts to international criminals, corrupt businessmen and other high-risk individuals."
The bank is already facing criminal investigations around the world as a result of the leaks, so far in France, Belgium, the US and Argentina. It remains to be seen where else the bank will face investigation. But one thing is certain: the story is just beginning to unravel, with the Guardian releasing new insights based on the leak all this week. [Guardian]
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