Panama Papers: Major banks set up thousands of offshore firms, says French paper Le Monde

A collage of major banks involved in the Panama Papers leak, (from left to right) Societe Generale's headquarters, UBS headquarters, HSBC's London offices, Deutsche Bank's headquarters, Nordea's headquarters, and Credit Suisse's headquarters.
A collage of major banks involved in the Panama Papers leak, (from left to right) Societe Generale's headquarters, UBS headquarters, HSBC's London offices, Deutsche Bank's headquarters, Nordea's headquarters, and Credit Suisse's headquarters.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The trio of British banking giant HSBC and Swiss institutions UBS and Credit Suisse set up more than 4,500 offshore companies through Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday (April 5).

HSBC created 2,300 offshore companies, Credit Suisse has 1,105 and UBS, has 1,100, while France's Societe Generale has 979, according to the latest revelations from the vast leak of documents dubbed the Panama Papers.

Le Monde reported that 365 banks across the world had used the services of Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the centre of the allegations.

Other major banks mentioned in the report include Germany's Deutsche Bank and Nordea, which does business in Nordic and Baltic countries.

 
 

Offshore companies can be used for legitimate purposes, but they have in the past been used to launder money and evade taxes.

The banks cited by Le Monde rejected any wrongdoing.

The CEO of Credit Suisse, Tidjane Thiam, said on Tuesday his bank would endorse only "legitimate" offshore arrangements.

"We only accept offshore structures, vehicles, if they serve legitimate purposes," Thiam said, speaking in Hong Kong.

"Clearly, tax avoidance is not one of those," he added.

"We insist on knowing who is the beneficial owner. If it's not revealed, we will not engage in business with that entity," he added.

HSBC meanwhile said: "We work closely with the authorities to fight financial crime and implement sanctions."

The bank said it had a clear policy that offshore account holders had to be "thoroughly vetted", where national authorities requested that the bank keep the account open "for the purpose of monitoring activity" or where an account had been frozen because of international sanctions.

A UBS spokesman told AFP that the bank "conducts its business in full accordance with the applicable regulations".

"The bank has no interest in funds which are not in line with fiscal rules or which come from illegal activity," he added.

The trove of Panama Papers documents was anonymously leaked to German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media groups by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More revelations are expected over the coming weeks.