India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday (9) that the names of Indian account holders in Swiss banks will be investigated as leaked files over the weekend claimed that HSBC’s Swiss division helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (£78.1bn).
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which coordinated the release of details of leaked client data, said a list of people who held HSBC accounts in Switzerland included current and former politicians from India, Russia and various African countries.
Football and tennis players, rock stars and Hollywood actors also figure in the leaked data, though inclusion on the list does not necessarily imply wrongdoing.
Jaitley said India’s tax authorities launched 60 prosecutions from an earlier list of Indian account holders in a Swiss branch of HSBC bank and most names revealed in Monday’s list were known to the government.
“Some new names have been revealed whose veracity would be checked by authorities,” the minister told reporters in New Delhi.
Jaitley said he met Swiss authorities, including the country’s finance minister, in Davos last month to discuss recovering undeclared foreign assets or “black money” from accounts in Switzerland.
Local media reported that 1,195 Indian names were on the leaked list, which if true is nearly double the 628 names that figured in an earlier HSBC list that was shared by the French government with India in 2011.
The files created global shockwaves, spotlighting the financial dealings of the world’s ultra-rich and the revelations renewed calls for a crackdown on sophisticated tax avoidance by the wealthy and multinational companies. Tax avoidance is legal, but tax evasion is not.
Swiss clients had placed the most money with the Geneva-based bank, at $31.2bn (£20.4bn), followed by British nationals at $21.7bn (£14.2bn), Venezuelans at $14.8bn (£9.7bn) and Americans at $13.4bn (38.7bn).
Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, told the BBC that MPs were launching an “urgent inquiry” and would order HSBC to give evidence if necessary.
“Today’s shocking revelations about HSBC further expose a secretive global industry serving a wealthy elite,” she told the broadcaster.
The documents also listed arms dealers, people linked to former dictators and traffickers in blood diamonds, and several individuals on the current US sanctions list.
“We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures,” HSBC said after news outlets published the allegations about its Swiss private bank.
The Guardian and other media cited documents obtained by the ICIJ via French newspaper Le Monde.
HSBC said that its Swiss arm had not been fully integrated into HSBC after its purchase in 1999, allowing “significantly lower” standards of compliance and due diligence to persist.
HSBC said that it was cooperating with authorities investigating tax matters. Authorities in France, Belgium and Argentina have said they are now investigating.
HSBC said that the Swiss private banking industry, long known for its secrecy, operated differently in the past and this may have resulted in HSBC having had “a number of clients that may not have been fully compliant with their applicable tax obligations.”
Its private bank, especially its Swiss arm, had undergone “a radical transformation” in recent years, it said in a detailed four-page statement.