Credit: Beat Strasser/Flickr

Swiss turn on HSBC with morning raid

A week after HSBC's private bank faced tax evasion allegations and eight years after they first came to governments' attention, Swiss prosecutors decide to raid its Geneva offices.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 22 Apr 2015

After a week to forget, the staff at HSBC's Swiss Private Bank had a morning they'll remember as Swiss prosecutors raided their premises as part of an investigation into 'aggravated money laundering'.

'A search is currently underway in the premises of the bank, led by Attorney General Olivier Jornot and the prosecutor Yves Bertossa,' said the office of Geneva's prosecutor this morning. 'We're looking for everything and anything we can find - documents and files,' a spokesman told the FT.

The raid follows allegations that HSBC's Swiss Private Bank helped clients evade their taxes between 2005 and 2007 through such ingenious measures as suitcases full of cash and super-powered credit cards that can withdraw vast sums of foreign currency from cashpoints.

The Swiss said their decision was prompted by 'recent published revelations' early last week, after documents taken by whistleblower Herve Falciani were given to media outlets around the world. This is despite the fact that Falciani handed the documents to the French authorities in 2007, having been chased to the border by Swiss police for their theft.

While the Swiss are busy being suddenly outraged at Swiss banking practices, HSBC has leant on the side of contrition. 'We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us,' said boss Stuart Gulliver in a full page letter published in numerous Sunday papers. 'We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.' Shares in HSBC have been unaffected, rising by 0.5% this morning to 605.8p.

Both the banks and the Swiss state are keen to point out that the murky world of Swiss banking has been thoroughly cleaned up in recent years. HSBC, however, is learning that old stains are hard to remove. It's already facing criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina over some of its historical practices.

An editorial disagreement 

Dawn raids and lavish servings of humble pie aren't the only consequences of the Falciani revelations. While Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge blew off some steam over Britain's handling of the issue (directly into the face of HMRC boss Lin Homer), Daily Telegraph contributor Peter Oborne got so sick of the coverage (or lack thereof) in his own paper that he resigned.

Oborne, who had been chief political correspondent at the Telegraph, accused it failing to give the story due prominence because of its commerical ties with HSBC, calling it  'a form of fraud on its readers'.    

'You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage' Oborne said in a lengthy and damning statement published on Open Democracy, adding that he'd intended to resign quietly over a long list of other editorial conflicts before the HSBC story broke.

The Telegraph, of course, refuted every word of it. 'It is a matter of huge regret that Peter Oborne, for nearly five years a contributor to the Telegraph, should have launched such an astonishing and unfounded attack, full of innaccuracy and innuendo, on his own paper,' a spokesperson said.

Somehow it seems unlikely that Oborne's resignation will be the end of the fallout from the HSBC scandal.

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