HSBC Scandal Coverage Name-Checks David Bowie, John Malkovich, Christian Slater

David Bowie Salute Portrait - H 2013
Jimmy King

David Bowie Salute Portrait - H 2013

Elle Macpherson and Diane von Furstenberg are also mentioned in a sweeping investigation into secret Swiss bank accounts.

John Malkovich, Christian Slater, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Elle Macpherson, Joan Collins, Diane von Fuerstenberg and Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer are among the big-name entertainment, media, music and fashion industry people said to have had secret accounts with Swiss banking giant HSBC.

Their names have made the headlines in reports about the findings of a group of investigative journalists.

The so-called Swiss Leaks, project conducted by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), looked at almost 60,000 leaked files on more than 100,000 HSBC clients that covered accounts up to 2007, according to the organization. It obtained the documents via French newspaper Le Monde. The consortium is made up of 185 investigate journalists worldwide, whose findings have appeared on the BBC, in The Guardian, Le Monde and other media outlets.

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“It’s not illegal in most countries to maintain offshore bank accounts, and being identified as holding an HSBC Private Bank account is of itself no indication of any wrongdoing,” a summary report from ICIJ said. “Some who are named in the files may have had some connection to a Swiss bank account, such as a power of attorney, while not owning the money in the account, or owning only a share of it. Others in the files may not even have had a Swiss bank account.”

The ICIJ investigation concluded though that HSBC reassured clients that it would not disclose details of secret accounts to national authorities, "even if evidence suggested that the accounts were undeclared to tax authorities in the client’s home country." It also found that HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) continued to provide services to clients who had been named by the United Nations as being connected to arms trafficking, blood diamonds and bribery.‎

Malkovich said through a representative that he knew nothing about an account listing his name and suggested that it might have to do with Bernard Madoff, the former stockbroker convicted of fraud who handled some of his finances, ICIJ said.

Slater was linked to an HSBC client account named "Captain Kirk” that was opened in 1996 and closed in 1997, according to ICIJ. The group said the leaked files “do not specify the exact role Slater had in relation to the account,” adding that Slater did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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Macpherson was connected to seven HSBC client accounts, but was the beneficial owner of only five. Four of the seven accounts were still operative in 2008. Her lawyers told ICIJ that the model and actress “is an Australian citizen who has accounted for U.K. tax on the basis of full disclosure in accordance with U.K. law."

A representative for British actress Joan Collins told ICIJ: “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.” The rep added that no tax was avoided and that the British tax authority checked on the issue in 2011, with Collins fully cooperating and the tax authority closing the matter.

Bowie, in a response to ICIJ partner The Guardian, highlighted that he has been a legal resident of Switzerland since 1976. Turner has also lived in Switzerland for nearly two decades and gave up her U.S. citizenship in 2013. Swiss nationals get less scrutiny in terms of their bank accounts than citizens of the U.S. or European Union countries.

Phil Collins' manager told The Guardian that the musician also lives in Switzerland, saying he "continues to live and bank" there. "It is entirely appropriate for him to have a bank account where he lives," the manager added, according to ICIJ.

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A representative for von Furstenberg said that she inherited one HSBC account from her parents, who were not American tax residents, and that she never received anything from another account. A spokeswoman also told ICIJ that she “made all necessary U.S. tax filings and insisted that the assets be domesticated to the United States more than 10 years ago.”

The reports on the HSBC investigation have also cast a spotlight on new BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead. She was the chair of HSBC’s audit and risk committee in the final year covered by the leaked files. The Guardian reported that she declined to respond to queries about how much she knew about the activities uncovered via the leaks. 

The BBC Trust referred queries regarding Fairhead’s role at HSBC to the bank and said the HSBC issue was unrelated to her role at the BBC.

HSBC in a comment acknowledged "past compliance and control failures" and said that its standards "were significantly lower than they are today."

Twitter: @georgszalai