France told to put HSBC private bank on trial

France told to put HSBC private bank on trial
Photo: AFP
The prospect of HSBC’s Swiss Private Bank facing a criminal trial in France over an alleged tax-dodging scheme became more of a reality on Friday after the state prosecutor advised magistrates to proceed.

The country’s financial state prosecutor formally requested that the bank face a criminal trial over a scheme that allegedly helped over 100,000 people around the world evade taxes.

HSBC was placed under formal investigation in France in November 2014 with magistrates "examining whether the bank acted appropriately between 2006-07 in relation to certain clients of the bank who had French tax reporting requirements, as well as in relation to the way the bank offered its services in the country."

In France, being placed under formal investigation is the nearest equivalent to being charged, and occurs when an examining magistrate decides there is a case to be answered.

A judicial source told AFP last year that the bank was suspected of "benefiting from the gains of tax fraud" and "laundering funds of an illicit origin by allowing thousands of clients to hide them".

The prosecutor's recommendation on Friday comes after magistrates in France had carried out investigations into the alleged tax dodging by around 3,000 French nationals.

The extent of the scheme emerged thanks to HSBC whistle-blower Hervé Falciani, a former computer analyst at the bank in Geneva.

Falciani said what has been revealed to the press so far is only just the tip of the iceberg.

"There's a lot more than what the journalists have seen," he told French newspaper Le Parisien last month.

According to Le Monde newspaper, HSBC refused a plea deal that would have avoided a trial if they paid a €1.4-billion fine.

HSBC bank now has one month to respond after which French magistrates will make a final decision over whether to proceed to criminal trial.

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