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HSBC’s Swiss private bank hid millions of dollars for drug traffickers, arms dealers and celebrities as it helped wealthy people around the world dodge taxes, according to a report based on leaked documents that lifts the veil on the country’s banking secrecy laws.
The report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several news organizations comes as governments seek to crack down on tax evasion to bolster treasuries depleted by the financial crisis and staunch criticism that the rich aren’t paying their fair share.
The leaked documents cover the period up to 2007 and relate to accounts worth $100 billion held by more than 100,000 people and legal entities from 200 countries.
Among the celebrities named in the docs include music icons David Bowie and Tina Turner, however, both are Swiss residents. Bowie has been a legal resident of Switzerland since 1976 and Turner has lived there for two decades — she even renounced her U.S. citizenship in 2013. Singer-songwriter Phil Collins has seven bank accounts listed in the files, but he too “continues to live and bank” in Switzerland, according to his manager. “It is entirely appropriate for him to have a bank account where he lives.”
John Malkovich is also listed as having a Swiss account with HSBC, but his rep tells ICIJ that the actor has no knowledge of it, suggesting that its existence “might have to do with Bernard Madoff,” the convicted mastermind behind a massive Ponzi scheme that fleeced thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. A representative for the British actress Joan Collins had this to say about her account listing: “In 1993 my client deposited funds into a bank account in London and subsequently discovered that, without her instructions, the money had been transferred to the Swiss account referred to in your letter.”
The report said actor Christian Slater was linked to an HSBC client account named “Captain Kirk,” after the Star Trek character. It was opened in 1996 and closed in 1997. The leaked files do not specify the exact role Slater had in relation to the account.
Supermodel Elle MacPherson was connected to seven HSBC client accounts, five of which she was beneficial owner of. “Ms. MacPherson is an Australian citizen who has accounted for UK tax on the basis of full disclosure in accordance with UK law,” her lawyers told ICIJ.
Some details of such banking operations were disclosed previously, when HSBC was fined in 2012 by the U.S. for allowing criminals to use its branches for money laundering. Monday’s report discloses a more detailed cache of data and information.
Academics estimate that $7.6 trillion is held in overseas tax havens, depriving governments of $200 billion a year in tax revenue, according to the ICIJ report.
The French government received the files from a whistleblower in 2010 and passed them onto tax authorities around the world, including the U.S., Britain and Germany.
HSBC stressed that the documents were from eight years ago and said it has since implemented initiatives designed to prevent its banking services from being used to evade taxes or launder money.
This article, which uses information from The Associated Press, first appeared on Billboard.com.
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