British multinational banking giant HSBC has been named in a whistleblower leak—the biggest in banking history–revealing how it helped wealthy clients evade hundreds of million of dollars worth of debt.
Obtained by The Guardian, Le Monde, BBC Panorama, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the files name 106,000 clients in 203 countries over the years 2005-2007. All told, the accounts in question contained almost $120 billion in assets.
HSBC’s Swiss banking arm is mainly responsible for not only turning a blind eye to tax evasion, but also allegedly advising clients on how to dodge domestic tax obligations. In some cases, the bank provided accounts to international criminals, businessmen under investigation, and other individuals who would be classified as high-risk.
While it is not illegal to hold bank accounts offshore, it is illegal to hide money from tax authorities for evasion purposes. Many of those named in the leaked files did not properly report their holdings. As a result, HSBC is now facing criminal investigations in the U.S., France, Argentina, and Belgium.
HSBC has said that it has since overhauled its private banking business, and that its number of Swiss bank accounts has shrunk by close to 70% since 2007. “HSBC has implemented numerous initiatives designed to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money,” the bank said in a statement.
Tax authorities have had access to the files since 2010, although they have not been made public up until now.