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French prosecutor calls for HSBC to stand trial for alleged tax fraud


HSBC could face trial for alleged tax fraud in France over the activities of its Swiss subsidiary.

A French prosecutor has called for HSBC be tried for aiding tax fraud in France in a case that relates to files stolen by Hervé Falciani, a former HSBC employee.

The Guardian and other publications exposed the Falciani documents last year in a series of articles that showed how HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers dodge taxes.

HSBC intends to continue to defend itself against the allegations, which date from 2005-07. The data was seized by tax authorities in 2008.

If the case goes to trial, HSBC would face charges that its Swiss private banking arm helped customs to hide assets from the French tax authorities. Magistrates in France must decide whether to proceed with the charges.

In a statement on Thursday, HSBC said: “We take note of the recommendation of the procureur de la République financier in France and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”

HSBC has known since April 2015 that it had been placed under formal investigation when a €1bn bail was set. This was reduced to €100m at a later hearing.

The bank said in a long list of legal disclosures attached to its six-monthly results in August that the ultimate financial impact could “differ significantly” from the €100m.

It said: “In March 2016, HSBC was informed that the French magistrates are of the view that they have completed their investigation with respect to HSBC Swiss Private Bank and HSBC Holdings, and have referred the matter to the public prosecutor for a recommendation on any potential charges to be brought.”

At the time, it also disclosed that it was continuing to cooperate with the US Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service into investigations into its Swiss arm and that in India.

It also listed regulatory and law enforcement authorities in Belgium, France, Argentina and India as conducting investigations and reviews of HSBC Swiss Private Bank. In addition to France, HSBC said it had been placed under formal criminal examination by magistrates in Belgium.

It also warned: “In light of the media attention regarding these matters, it is possible that other tax administration, regulatory or law enforcement authorities will also initiate or enlarge similar investigations or regulatory proceedings.”

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