HSBC scandal: Philip Green's friends distance billionaire from Swiss bank investigation

An international investigation uncovered a cache of documents revealing thousands of wealthy clients who used the bank

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Sir Philip Green’s associates have been quick to distance the retail billionaire from a widening scandal about tax avoidance in Switzerland.

Billionaire Richard Caring is alleged to have withdrawn 5 million Swiss francs (£3.5 million) in cash from his HSBC Geneva account.

The money is said to have originated from accounts in Monaco held in Green’s wife Tina’s name but controlled by Caring.

Sources close to Philip Green, however, said this was “wholly untrue”.

They added that Green himself does not have any Swiss bank accounts.

Caring owns a string of restaurants including The Ivy and nightclub Annabel’s and is a close friend of Green. He also supplied clothes to Green’s fashion empire as the TopShop tycoon’s high street dominance has grown.

 

Caring, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, is among hundreds of people ranging from pop stars to royalty who have been revealed as clients of HSBC’s secretive Swiss private-banking arm.

Among the names holding HSBC accounts released overnight are rock stars David Bowie and Tina Turner, both of whom are Swiss citizens.

Others are Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, King Mohammed VI of Morocco and former Portsmouth FC owner Vladimir Antonov.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any of the above.

The files released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism detail 30,000 accounts held with the bank between 2005 and 2007 covering assets of nearly £78 billion.

According to the BBC the files cover almost 7000 UK citizens and have been in the hands of HMRC since 2010.

HMRC has clawed back around £135 million from some of the 3600 British clients of the bank alleged to have avoided tax. Only one person has been prosecuted.

Caring, according to HSBC’s internal note, planned to deposit the cash in “a new account with a separate institution in Geneva. He did not feel it appropriate for either bank to be aware of the relationship with the other”.

Another internal memo said: “RC goes to great lengths to maintain discretion.”

Caring’s lawyers told The Guardian: “It is a private matter in which there was no impropriety on our client’s part.”

The paper reported Caring, who has non-dom tax status in the UK, had more than £100 million in an HSBC offshore account, part of which he used to garner profits from his “anonymous” 22 per cent stake in Green’s BHS.

In  a statement last night, Mr Caring said: “I would like to make it very clear that I have complied with all my obligations as far as the Inland Revenue is concerned. I have paid millions of pounds in UK tax, including £33m in respect of the BHS transaction that has featured in a number of press articles concerning my business affairs.

“The HSBC documents that have been widely referred to by The Guardian and others have been known to the Inland Revenue since 2010 and have not resulted in any taxable issues

“In relation to my cash withdrawal, this created no personal tax issues and the bank carried out all appropriate due diligence before authorising the transaction. Contrary to what has been suggested in some media outlets, neither I nor anybody else has an obligation to notify the Inland Revenue of the opening of a bank account.”

HSBC has admitted it was accountable for failures in compliance and control in its Swiss business but said it had introduced major reforms and scaled back its Swiss operations.

Its chief executive at the time, Stephen Green, who went on to become a trade minister in the Coalition Government, refused to comment.

Current chief executive Stuart Gulliver and the bank’s chairman, Douglas Flint, who was its finance director at the time, have also declined to comment.

 

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