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10/02 – Swissleaks is triggering furious responses around the world

More than 100,000 clients and 20,000 offshore companies have benefited from a wide system of tax evasion orchestrated by HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary, French newspaper Le Monde reveals after having investigated the HSBC affair since the outset – a report finding media coverage in Europe, with several sources pointing at the national citizens being suspected of having taken advantage of this system.

The existence of the documents has long been known, INYT reports. In early 2014, Le Monde came into possession of international banking data for the period 2005-2007 that provided evidence of fraud on a gigantic scale. Between November 9 2006 and March 31 2007 – the period covered by the files stolen by HSBC Private Bank’s former employee Hervé Falciani – €180.6 billion passed through the accounts held by clients and offshore companies with HSBC in Geneva.

HSBC Private Bank and the Swiss authorities have, since the beginning of the affair, denied both the figures established by the French tax office and prosecutors, and the use of these data while, according to Les Echos’ Jean-Francis Pécresse, the tax evasion practices of HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary are no longer taking place. In an opinion piece for L’Opinion, Isabelle Marchais stresses that the case “brings additional arguments to those calling for more transparency in the fight against tax fraud and evasion on behalf of tax equity.” “Our fellow citizens no longer tolerate the opaque behaviour which enables the richest and most powerful people to avoid taxation when the most modest people [pay their taxes]. It is a moral and a financial issue, an essential part of the necessary combat against inequality,” stressed European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici on his blog.

In reaction, Sigmar Gabriel demanded further investigation into HSBC in Germany, and stated that illicit activity must be punished with “full force,” SZ notes, adding that the British government commented that “the era of bank secrecy is over.” Revelations of large scale tax evasion facilitated by banking group HSBC should embarrass more than just the bank and the individuals concerned, FT claims in a comment echoed by The Guardian. “HMRC knew of wrongdoing, but did not prosecute,” a Guardian headline reads. Outside the UK, The Guardian reports in a separate article, calls multiplied throughout the day for investigations into events at HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary.

In Belgium a judge is considering issuing international arrest warrants for directors of the Swiss division of the bank. In Switzerland, senior politicians called for investigations by regulators into the scandal. In the United States, a leading member of the Senate banking committee asked the US government to explain what action it took after receiving a massive cache of the leaked bank accounts. In Denmark, the government said it would seek the names of its citizens who may have used Swiss bank accounts to avoid domestic taxes.

In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he was determined to fight tax evasion and would continue to take action at home as well as at a European level, according to the British newspaper. In Luxembourg, a lawyer specialised in banking matters is quoted by Luxemburger Wort as saying: “You are always the tax haven of someone else.” In Brussels, the Luxembourgish newspaper notes, the HSBC case is far less cause for concern than the LuxLeaks scandal. ©EuropeanUnion2015

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