Prosecutors in Geneva have closed a money-laundering case against HSBC after the bank agreed to pay a £27.8m fine. The penalty – structured as compensation – is a record but is tiny in comparison to some of the fines the bank has faced in recent years.
There was no admission of guilt on the part of HSBC. However, Geneva’s chief prosecutor, Yves Bertossa, said: “The solution found concerns only criminal responsibility of the bank… This closing of the affair absolutely does not affect former employees.”
There have been no charges filed against current staff at HSBC, which is still dealing with the fallout from allegations that its Swiss private bank helped hundreds of wealthy clients to evade tax.
Their names and account details were revealed after the whistleblower Hervé Falciani, a Franco-Italian systems engineer, spirited a data file out of Switzerland, where he had been working on an IT upgrade for HSBC. Authorities in countries including France, Belgium and the US are now investigating.
The closure of the Geneva case came just four months after the city prosecutor raided HSBC’s Swiss headquarters on the Rhône riverfront, and its back office in slightly less elegant environs near the airport. The raid was part of an investigation into allegations of aggravated money laundering, which included claims that the bank helped clients to launder the proceeds of drugs and arms trafficking, and terrorism.
Federal prosecutors and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) have both said they have no plans to investigate the operations of HSBC’s Swiss unit and, in any case, tax evasion is not a crime under Swiss law.
The Geneva prosecutors’ actions were seen in some quarters as an attempt to save face, given what Mr Falciani’s data has shown was going on under their noses.
HSBC said that it had “fully co-operated with the investigation throughout and will not face criminal charges”. It added that its Swiss private bank had “undergone a radical transformation”, which included cutting its client base by almost 70 per cent to just 10,000 accounts last year.
“The Geneva prosecutor acknowledges the progress the bank has made in recent years, including the improvements in its compliance function, internal processes and technology,” HSBC said.
The bank has pledged to fight charges in France, where prosecutors have been moving towards prosecution, with both the Swiss unit and the bank’s global holding company under investigation.
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