Leaked bank files show HSBC 'helped clients dodge taxes'

A file picture shows a sign of HSBC in the centre of Geneva, swiss subsidiary of British bank HSBC. -- PHOTO: AFP
A file picture shows a sign of HSBC in the centre of Geneva, swiss subsidiary of British bank HSBC. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - A cache of secret bank files shows that HSBC's Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers avoid taxes and hide millions of dollars, according to a report by a network of investigative journalists released Sunday.

The files, analysed by 140 reporters in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), showed that British banking giant HSBC provided accounts to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, politicians and celebrities.

"HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channelled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws," ICIJ reported.

Clients included former and current politicians from Britain, Russia, India and a range of African countries, according to the files.

Names in the files included people sanctioned by the United States including Turkish businessman Selim Alguadis and Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin targeted by sanctions over Ukraine.

Former Egyptian trade minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid, who fled Cairo during the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, is listed as having power of attorney over an account worth US$31 million (S$42 million), according to the files.

Other individuals named include Frantz Merceron, an associate of former Haitian president Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

HSBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the ICIJ: "We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due diligence in HSBC's Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today."

The files obtained are a version of a set held by the French government and shared with other states in 2010, leading to a series of prosecutions for tax evasion, the ICIJ said.