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BW Businessworld

Leaks On HSBC Accounts Just A 'Tip Of Iceberg'

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The former HSBC employee who leaked sensational secret documents alleging the bank helped wealthy customers dodge millions of dollars in taxes has warned that the revelations are just the "tip of the iceberg".
 
The files created global shockwaves, spotlighting the financial dealings of the world's ultra-rich and prompting British lawmakers to launch an inquiry into the London-based bank.
 
The cache of files made public in the so-called SwissLeaks case includes the names of celebrities, alleged arms dealers and politicians - though inclusion on the list does not necessarily imply wrongdoing.
 
Published at the weekend, the files claim HSBC's Swiss division helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (104 billion euros).
 
Herve Falciani, an IT worker turned whistleblower, stole the files in 2007 and passed them to French authorities, but they had not been previously made public.
 
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained the files via French newspaper Le Monde and shared them with more than 45 other media organisations worldwide.
 
But Falciani said the media reports on the documents' contents were based on just a fraction of the files he gave to the French state.
 
"This is only the tip of the iceberg," the Franco-Italian told France's Le Parisien newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.
 
"There's more than what the journalists have. Several million transactions (between banks) are also in the documents I transmitted. These figures could give an idea of what lies at the bottom of the iceberg." 
 
The files were used by the French government to track down tax evaders and shared with other states in 2010, leading to a series of prosecutions.
 
 Herve Falciani... 'Snowden of tax evasion'
Snowden Of Tax Evasion
Dubbed the "Snowden of tax evasion" and "the man who terrifies the rich", Falciani remains wanted on data theft charges, but France and Spain have offered him protection by refusing to extradite him to Switzerland.
 
The HSBC leaks are being compared with the US National Security Agency scandal after American computer professional Edward Snowden leaked classified information about US surveillance programmes in 2013.
 
Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the British parliament's Public Accounts Committee, told the BBC that lawmakers 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 show that HSBC opened Swiss accounts for international criminals, businessmen, politicians and celebrities, according to the ICIJ.
 
The Indian government on Monday said it will probe all the new cases and take the assistance of the whistle blower to get all the names of Indians with HSBC accounts in Switzerland and other places.
 
"Some new names have been revealed whose veracity would be checked by authorities," Finance Minister of India Arun Jaitley said. The Indian government said that information in more than 600 cases has been sought from foreign jurisdictions based credible information of undisclosed foreign accounts.
 
Questioned by lawmakers about what the French government was doing with the leaked data, Budget Minister Christian Eckert said the government had passed more than 100 cases to judicial authorities.
 
Martin Wheatley, chief executive of Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said the agency did not know about the claims regarding the London-based bank's Swiss division before they emerged in the secret files over the weekend.
 
(Agencies)