HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank helped wealthy customers cheat the UK out of millions of pounds in tax according to the BBC’s Panorama after seeing 1,000’s of accounts from HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland leaked in 2007. They show bankers helped clients evade tax and offered deals to help tax dodgers stay ahead of the law.
HSBC admitted that some individuals took advantage of bank secrecy to hold undeclared accounts. But it said it has now “fundamentally changed”. The documents, stolen in 2007 by a computer expert working for HSBC in Geneva, contain details of more than 100,000 clients from around the world. Offshore accounts are not illegal, but many people use them to hide cash from the tax authorities. And while tax avoidance is perfectly legal, deliberately hiding money to evade tax is not.
The French authorities assessed the stolen data and concluded in 2013 that 99.8% of their citizens on the list were probably evading tax. The thousands of pages of data were obtained by the French newspaper Le Monde. In a joint investigation, the documents have now been passed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Guardian newspaper, Panorama and more than 50 media outlets around the world.
The documents include details of almost 7,000 British clients. Many of the accounts were not declared to the taxman. HMRC was given the leaked data in 2010 and has identified 1,100 people who had not paid their taxes. But almost five years later, only one tax evader has been prosecuted.
HMRC said £135m in tax, interest and penalties have now been paid by those who hid their assets in Switzerland. HSBC denies that all these account holders were evading tax.