BBC ‘Panorama’ programme and other European media reported last week that they have seen numerous documents confirming that some 100,000 people from around the word, with just under 7000 British citizens have bank accounts with HSBC private Swiss bank.  Another case of Bank secrecy in aid of tax avoidance.

A major British international bank was alleged to have helped its customers evade their country’s tax obligations. 

According to the programme, a French investigation concluded that 99.8% of the French people on the list had probably avoided paying tax.  It is also purporting that this UK’s bank, helped rich customers dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland.

HSBC is now, according to ‘Panorama’, facing criminal investigation in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina but not in the UK.

The Swissleaks case is in its infancy, and already its impact is huge.

According to ‘Le Monde’, €180 billion would have passed through HSBC Geneva individual as well as companies private accounts.  These last ones mostly offshore number something around 20,000.

From the MENA, the Maghreb countries are not outdone.  According to ‘International Consortium of Investigations Journalists’ (ICIJ), the accounts of customers related to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia hold amounts of around $2.8 billion.

Morocco (37th in the world) comes first in the Maghreb with $1.6 billion.  21% of these accounts holders are Moroccan nationals.

Algeria (55th in the world) is second with no more than $671 million.  This amount would be owned by 440 clients related to Algeria, of which 10% have Algerian nationality.

In an Algeria where corruption and scandals (Sonatrach, BRC case, East-West Motorway, etc…) are well known to all, it is not the number of Algerians involved that is surprising but rather the fact that these revelations of the French daily ‘Le Monde’ cover the period from 1970 to 2006 only and that between 2007 and 2014, especially with the oil revenues at an unprecedented high, these bank accounts and all amounts held therein must have  certainly inflated and the number of Algerian “clients” of the same bank has undoubtedly increased.

In the last position in the Maghreb is Tunisia (59th in the world) with $554 million.  This amount belongs to 256 clients related to the country with 11% of Tunisians.

There are also few accounts of people from the Arabian Gulf with of course greater balances but for other reasons since all the GCC countries are tax-free.  Details of names and amounts held are nevertheless coming into the light of day.

In the meantime, HSBC denied that all the Swiss account holders had evaded tax and said that it was “cooperating with relevant authorities”, adding :

“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”.