Moroccan King defends Swiss HSBC bank account

PARIS (AFP) - Morocco's King Mohammed VI said Wednesday his bank account with HSBC's Swiss banking arm, alleged to have helped ultra-rich clients dodge taxes, was opened with "strict respect" for his country's tax laws.

The King was among hundreds of clients whose names cropped up when stolen files were released claiming the London-based bank helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing US$119 billion (S$161 billion).

"The sum of money held by His Majesty the King in the HSBC account targeted by your article was transferred there in total transparency with the formal and prior agreement of the exchange office, as required by Moroccan law," the King wrote in a letter to Le Monde newspaper.

"The opening of this account was thus carried out with strict respect for fiscal laws."

On Feb 10, the French daily reported that Mohammed VI had opened a joint account at the bank with his private secretary Mounir Majidi, while it is "illegal, in principal, for Moroccans residing in Morocco to hold a foreign bank account".

Le Monde played a leading role in revealing how HSBC's Swiss private banking arm helped clients hide millions of dollars.

The French paper, which obtained files leaked by a whistleblower, said Mohammed VI held up to €7.9 million (S$12.2 million) in the bank account between 2006 and 2007, the period covered by the secret files.

The documents showed that HSBC opened Swiss accounts for international criminals, businessmen, politicians and celebrities, however their inclusion does not necessarily imply wrongdoing.

In his letter, the King said that as he was "in no way a fiscal resident of France, it is hard to understand under what conditions he is included among the 'elites of French tax evasion'", referring to the newspaper's headline.

Swiss authorities on Wednesday raided the HSBC offices as part of a money laundering investigation triggered by the leaks.

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