Swiss Police Raid HSBC’s Geneva Office Looking for Tax Evaders

Will art world figureheads get caught up in the investigation?

Office of HSBC in Zürich, SwitzerlandPhoto via: Rediff

Office of HSBC in Zürich, Switzerland
Photo via: Rediff

Swiss police have raided the Geneva offices of HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, in an attempt to investigate “persons unknown for suspected aggravated money laundering,” according to a BBC report.

Last week artnet News reported on several art world figures who were reported as holders of Swiss bank accounts at HSBC and whose names were among those leaked by various media outlets, amid inquiries into how HSBC might have colluded with some clients to help them avoid taxes (see: Christian Boltanski, Helmut Newton, and Former Sotheby’s Chairman Alfred Taubman Named In HSBC Scandal.) The French artist Christian Boltanski, fashion photographer Helmut Newton, and Alfred Taubman, who was chairman of Sotheby’s for ten years, are all included, according to a report in 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.

The Geneva prosecutor said he had launched an investigation “following the allegations and could extend it to individuals,” according to a report in the Telegraph.

The revelation of potentially sensitive information also prompted Le Monde co-owner Pierre Bergé, who is also founder and president of Paris auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés (part of Drouot), to lash out at his staff, declaring, “It wasn’t for this that I allowed them to gain their independence.” Editorial independence was guaranteed as part of the terms of the paper’s purchase in 2010. (See Le Monde Owner Pierre Bergé Slams Le Monde Over HSBC Report).

HSBC has apologized to customers and investors over previous lapses in compliance of its Swiss operations and has said the operation has been overhauled.

According to the Telegraph, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority said earlier this week that it would investigate HSBC. The bank has been under scrutiny for the past seven years, after a former employee fled Geneva with files that reportedly showed evidence of tax evasion by clients of the bank. The report says French tax authorities later passed the information to tax authorities around the world. According to the Telegraph, “US officials opened a criminal investigation and French magistrates put the bank under formal investigation last November. Tax authorities in Belgium, Austria and Argentina are also looking at the allegations.”

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