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Belgium considers international arrest warrants for HSBC

Published on 09/02/2015

A Belgian judge is considering issuing international arrest warrants for the directors of the Swiss division of HSBC, an official said Monday, as the bank faced a row over revelations that it helped wealthy clients dodge tax.

The threat came as HSBC faced controversy over a cache of “SwissLeaks” documents published at the weekend that claim the bank handled secret accounts for drug lords, tax evaders and celebrities.

In November, Belgium charged HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary with fraud and money-laundering worth hundreds of millions of euros, mainly for diamond dealers in the industry’s international hub of Antwerp.

HSBC said at the time that it would cooperate fully with the probe, but officials said the Swiss division had so far failed to deliver, prompting Belgian investigating judge Michel Claise to now consider further action.

“The judge believes that it is now time for the bank to cooperate, otherwise he will be forced to issue international arrest warrants for the current and former heads of the bank,” prosecution spokeswoman Ine Van Wymeersch told AFP.”

“We cannot wait for too much longer otherwise we will not be able to move the investigation forward.”

Belgium is one of several countries around the world that have launched investigations as a result of the SwissLeaks files.

They were stolen by an IT worker in 2007 and passed to French authorities. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) then obtained the files via French newspaper Le Monde, and shared them with more than 45 other media organisations worldwide.

Belgium accuses Swiss subsidiary HSBC Private Bank SA (Suisse), which is wholly owned by the Asia-focused banking giant, of allegedly helped hundreds of clients cheat the Belgian state.

The HSBC subsidiary is being charged with serious and organised fraud, money-laundering, criminal conspiracy and illegally functioning as a financial intermediary.

In November, prosecutors said the allegations “date back several years and involve soliciting and managing the assets of wealthy clients, mainly from the Antwerp diamond industry.”

Antwerp, a port in Belgian’s northern Flemish-speaking region, is home to the global dealers syndicate for diamonds.