Paris: A French prosecutor has called for British banking giant HSBC to stand trial for enabling French clients to hide more than €180 billion (Dh733 billion) from the taxman, a source close to the probe said Thursday.
The recommendation also names the former chief executive of the bank’s Swiss private banking arm, Peter Braunwalder, and another executive, Judah Elmaleh.
If the case goes to trial, HSBC would face charges that its private banking division offered its customers several ways of hiding assets from the French taxman, notably via the use of offshore tax havens.
The banking giant was accused of failing in its supervisory role over its private banking division, but further investigation led to suspicions that HSBC “participated actively in the fraudulent practices”, the source close to the investigation said.
An HSBC spokesman said: “The conclusions of the national financial prosecutor are duly noted, and we will continue our strong defence of our interests.”
The case began when French authorities in late 2008 received files stolen by Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee, whose disclosures sparked the so-called “Swissleaks” scandal on bank-supported tax evasion.
The French-Italian national — dubbed by some media as “The Edward Snowden of banking” — leaked a cache of documents allegedly indicating that HSBC helped more than 120,000 clients hide €180.6 billion ($200.3 billion at today’s rates), from tax authorities between November 2006 and March 2007.
He was sentenced in absentia in November in Switzerland to five years in prison. The leaked files led to investigations by tax authorities in several European countries, including Spain and Belgium besides France.
HSBC was charged in April 2015 for “tax-related offences” and a bail of €1 billion was imposed, but an appeal court later reduced the sum to €100 million.