Calls for probe against HSBC Swiss unit after tax evation revelations

9th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Politicians in Switzerland called Monday for an investigation into HSBC's Swiss unit, at the centre of a vast scandal over clients' tax evasion, money laundering and financing of terrorist groups.

Opening an investigation "would be the least that could be done," former Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told the RTS public broadcaster.

So far, the Swiss judiciary has only opened a probe against Herve Falciani, the IT worker who in 2007 stole the HSBC files at the heart of the scandal and passed them on to French authorities.

The so-called 'SwissLeaks' cache of secret files, published over the weekend, claim the bank helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (104 billion euros).

The files showed that HSBC provided accounts to international criminals, businessmen,politicians and celebrities.

Calmy-Rey warned that the case had seriously damaged Switzerland's image.

"I am angry. Switzerland has a good reputation for its efforts towards peace, for its economy. But then we learn there are slick individuals who do things" in secret that harm the country's image, she said.

The former minister recalled how she helped negotiate an end to a US battle with Swiss banking giant UBS over its assistance to US tax dodgers, in which the bank in 2009 agreed to pay a $780 million fine.

"Now we realise that this is not over," she said.

Other politicians joined her call for a probe against the bank, including Socialist parliamentarian Roger Nordmann.

HSBC Switzerland is already under investigation in France and Belgium over tax fraud allegations.

The Swiss Banking Association meanwhile stressed that banks "must always respect existing laws when carrying out their activities."

"This goes for both the laws in their own country and the laws in the countries where they operate," it said in statement sent to AFP, adding that if banks do not follow these laws "they have to take the consequences."

However, the association stressed that banks cannot be held responsible for their client's tax avoidance, and pointed out that Swiss banks over the past decade have radically shifted practices to help ensure conformity with tax laws.

The worst examples, it said, "are in the past."

© 2015 AFP

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