Christian Boltanski, Helmut Newton, and Former Sotheby’s Chairman Alfred Taubman Named in HSBC Scandal

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The compromising bank account files from HSBC’s Swiss arm, leaked by whistleblower Hervé Falciani and published by major media outlets this week, have revealed how Europe’s largest bank might have colluded with some clients to help them avoid taxes and conceal hidden accounts.

According to ICIJ, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism’s site dedicated to the Swiss leak, the list of HSBC clients in Switzerland includes actors, sports and fashion figures, and politicians, such as Christian Slater, Valentino, Elle MacPherson, and Phil Collins. It also features several art world personalities.

The French artist Christian Boltanski, fashion photographer Helmut Newton, and Alfred Taubman, who was chairman of Sotheby’s for ten years, are all included, reports the Art Newspaper, although none of them has been accused of wrongdoing.

According to Le Monde, one of the newspapers involved in the investigation, Boltanski was once an HSBC Switzerland client, but has now changed his financial arrangements.

ICIJ reports that Newton was linked to two HSBC accounts, one of them in use from 1994 to 1999, and another one which was opened three days after his death in 2004 in the name of the Zürich-based Helmut Newton Foundation (HNF). The second account held a maximum of $35,528 during 2006-2007. Andrew Behr, a HNF board member, told ICIJ that the foundation’s accounts are audited yearly by a Swiss accounting company, in accordance with Swiss law. He also declared that the procedures for opening the HNF bank account were initiated before Newton’s unexpected death in a car crash.

Alfred Taubman’s Six Accounts

Meanwhile, Taubman, the billionaire property developer and philanthropist, has been linked to six HSBC accounts. Christopher Tennyson, Taubman’s representative, told ICIJ that the accounts were held by the Athena Group, a real estate company in which Taubman was an investor, to support development projects in Russia. Taubman is a philanthropist, who has made large donations to educational organizations. The former Sotheby’s chairman served 10 months in prison and was fined $7.5 million in 2002, after a New York jury found him guilty of fixing auction prices.

Alfred Taubman

Businessman Alfred Taubman is 2011. He has been linked to six HSBC accounts.
Photo: Nathan Skid / Crain’s Detroit Business

“In the past, the Swiss private banking industry operated very differently to the way it does today,” HSBC said in a statement published by the Guardian. “Swiss private banks were typically used by wealthy individuals to manage their wealth in a discreet manner. […] 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.”

The bank, the second largest in the world, also claimed to have “taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.”

But contrite resolutions might be a case of “too little too late.” According to the Guardian, the US Department of Justice is considering bringing criminal charges against HSBC and its executives if it is proved that the Swiss arm of the bank helped US clients evade taxes.

artnet News recently reported on a secret sales tax investigation in art galleries and dealers in New York that was recently launched by the Manhattan Disctrict Attorney. See: New York DA Launches Secret Sales Tax Investigation and Emergency Advice For Dealers Facing A Sales Tax Investigation)

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