HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank, helped rich customers to dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland, according to a report last night.
BBC Panorama said it had seen thousands of documents from the company’s private Swiss bank which showed that some clients were able to hide money from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
As a result of investigations by the HMRC, some £135m in unpaid tax, interest and penalties have since been handed over by the British citizens involved, it is claimed. The documents, which were stolen by a computer expert in 2007 and have now been leaked to the BBC and other European media, detail the Swiss accounts of more than 100,000 people from around the world, including just under 7,000 British citizens.
According to the programme, a French investigation concluded that 99.8 per cent of the French people on the list had probably avoided paying tax.
It said HMRC was given the information in 2010 and subsequently decided that 1,100 British people had not paid enough tax. However, only one tax evader was prosecuted in the UK.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, said: “I just don’t think the tax authorities have been strong enough, assertive enough, brave enough, tough enough in securing for the British taxpayer the monies that are due.”
Panorama said HSBC was now facing criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina, but not in the UK.
HSBC denied that all the Swiss account holders had evaded tax and said it was “co-operating with relevant authorities”.
It said: “In some cases individuals took advantage of bank secrecy to hold undeclared accounts.
“This resulted in private banks, including HSBC’s Swiss private bank, having a number of clients that may not have been fully compliant with their applicable tax obligations. We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures.
“We have taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards. HSBC’s Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70 per cent since 2007.”Reuse content