HSBC tax evasion investigation

French prosecutors have launched a
tax evasion investigation based on data stolen by an ex-employee of HSBC’s
private client bank in Switzerland.

The stolen files have been
decrypted and reveal 127,000 accounts belonging to 79,000 people, prosecutors
say.

The number of accounts affected is
far higher than first thought, with HSBC saying originally it was fewer than
10.

An HSBC spokesman said that the
127,000 claim was “massively overstated” by the French authorities.

However, Eric de Montgolfier, a
high-profile prosecutor based in Nice, told reporters that his department had
identified 8,231 French account holders, plus tens of thousands more from other
countries.

The data theft from HSBC Private
Bank (Suisse) was committed three years ago.

The former employee, Herve
Falciani, who worked in HSBC’s IT division, fled to France while under
investigation in Switzerland.

In January 2009, French
authorities, acting on a Swiss warrant, seized the data from Mr Falciani’s
home.

Last December, HSBC said that
details of perhaps 10 accounts were stolen. But in March the bank admitted that
24,000 accounts were affected, 15,000 of which were still active and 9,000 of
which had closed since the theft.

It is thought that Italian
authorities have already asked Mr de Montgolfier, whose investigations have
targeted businessman-turned-politician Bernard Tapie and singer Johnny
Halliday, for information on its nationals.

The HSBC spokesman said he
“simply did not recognise” the figures quoted by Mr de Montgolfier.
The Swiss operation did not have that number of accounts, he said, although he
declined to say how many there were.

He added that Mr Falciani would not
have had access to data outside of the private banking operation in
Switzerland.

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