French court backs charges against HSBC in tax fraud probe

Date: February 1, 2016

By: Agence France-Presse

French court backs charges against HSBC in tax fraud probe

The Paris appeals court on Monday confirmed charges against British banking giant HSBC Holdings PLC as part of a tax fraud probe, sources close to the case told AFP.

The court rejected an appeal by HSBC that charges first brought in April for facilitating tax fraud and illegal practices be dropped.

Investigating magistrates accuse HSBC of failing in its supervisory role over its Swiss unit HSBC Private Bank which is suspected of having set up tax fraud schemes for its customers, mostly French.

“We are disappointed by the outcome of the appeals procedure,” HSBC said in a statement. “We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”

HSBC Private Banking is suspected of offering its customers several ways of hiding assets from the French taxman, notably via the use of offshore tax havens.

The case began when French authorities in late 2008 received files stolen by Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee whose disclosures uncorked the so-called “Swissleaks” scandal on bank-supported tax evasion. He was sentenced in absentia in November in Switzerland to five years in prison.

The 43-year-old French-Italian national — dubbed by some media as “The Edward Snowden of banking” — leaked a cache of documents allegedly indicating the bank’s Swiss private banking arm helped more than 120,000 clients hide 180.6 billion euros ($205.4 billion) from tax authorities from November 2006 to March 2007.

The leaked files led to investigations by tax authorities in several European countries, including Spain and Belgium besides France.

French judges have conducted other investigations into tax fraud, including into Swiss bank UBS which was fined a record 1.1 billion euros in 2014.