LONDON/ZURICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – HSBC Holdings Plc faces investigation by US authorities and an inquiry by British lawmakers after admitting failings by its Swiss private bank that may have allowed some customers to dodge taxes.
US prosecutors have stepped up efforts to establish whether HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, helped Americans evade taxes after media reports said the bank had helped wealthy customers conceal millions of dollars of assets.
US authorities are also probing whether HSBC manipulated currency rates, and a US law enforcement official said on Monday the investigations could prompt the Department of Justice to revisit a 2012 deferred prosecution agreement with the bank.
The agreement was part of a $1.9 billion settlement that allowed HSBC to avoid criminal charges after it was found to have helped move hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit drug money through the US financial system.
“It is quite possible that the (agreement) may be reopened as a result of the bank’s activities on either or both the tax evasion and foreign exchange manipulation front,” said the US law enforcement official, who requested anonymity because the investigations are ongoing.
British lawmakers said they plan to open an inquiry into the bank after it came under fire for its past practices in Switzerland.
HSBC shares fell 2 per cent by 0845 GMT on Tuesday, underperforming the European bank index. They fell 1.6 per cent on Monday after media reports about the activities of its Swiss operation based on client data from 2006-07.
A spokesman for HSBC declined further comment on Tuesday after the bank issued a statement late on Sunday in response to the media reports.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which coordinated the release of details of leaked client data, said a list of people who held HSBC accounts in Switzerland included soccer and tennis players, rock stars and Hollywood actors.
Reuters could not independently verify any of the names listed by the ICIJ. Having a Swiss bank account is not illegal and many are held for legitimate purposes.
The newly released HSBC Swiss client list included royalty such as Morocco’s King Mohammed, politicians, corporate executives including former Santander chairman Emilio Botin, who died last year, and wealthy families, the ICIJ said. A spokesman for the Moroccan royal palace declined to comment.
Uruguayan soccer player Diego Forlan, who was also on the list, on Monday denied evading taxes by hiding money in Swiss accounts with HSBC.
The documents also listed arms dealers, people linked to former dictators and traffickers in blood diamonds, and several individuals on the current US sanctions list, including Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Russian President Vladimir
Putin. Timchenko’s Volga Group declined to comment.