Swiss HSBC bank’s master plan for evasion of European savings tax (translated, Le Monde)

28 Jan

There is not just one, but two HSBC affairs. After a long inquiry, Le Monde reveals, Monday 27 january, the underside of an incredible episode which has poisoned Franco-Swiss relations for five years, and gives cold sweats to the French establishment.

The 26th December 2008, the computer programmer Hervé Falciani  sent to French tax investigators four DVDs containing about ten giga-bytes of raw data, encrypted, analysed over the course of long nights of work in Geneva, and concerning two years: 2005 and 2006. This HSBC employee is in flight, suspected of having wanted to sell the data to Libyan banks. The Direction national des enquêtes fiscales (DNEF) – national head of tax inquiries – with the aid of the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), re-transcribed and then reconstituted a listing containing, in total, 2,846 identities of tax evaders.

The 20th January 2009, the courts in their turn went into action. They seized the computers of Hervé Falciani, and they too processed the raw data. A second listing was established through police investigation, harbouring for its part 2,956 names of suspects. A preliminary inquiry was ordered, much to the annoyance of the Swiss. There would be traps, checks, attempts to obstruct the work of the inquirers, and even the ousting of the head of the DNEF, whose file is sensitive.

600 Prominent Figures in the Listings

Le Monde has also had access to these two lists. The identities are often the same, and, in cross-referencing the information, certain categories materialise. They are traders, chemists, lawyers, comedians, singers, antiques dealers, sportsmen. A precious resource for the investigators, letting them establish a typology documenting the French holders of Swiss accounts.

In the majority of cases, the taxpayers found at fault have already regularised their situation. On examining the listings, one thing is obvious: the different circumstances. Around 600 prominent figures feature there. We have contacted them and listed those who permitted it. The first category, is those incumbents whose affairs are perfectly in order. For example the French residents in Switzerland. Among them is the footballer Christian Karembeu, the brothers Christian and François Picart (founders of the restaurant chain Buffalo Grill), or even Alain Affelou. In contrast to their treatment, the investigators interrogated a former teammate of M. Karembeu in the French team, who was also a world champion in 1998, holder of 1.6million euros with HSBC, as well as two superstars of French cinema, a famous comedian, a popstar, a former Miss France. And finally, a senator (UDI?) They did not respond to our inquiries.

The film-maker Cédric Klapisch figures on the list. “The tax authority contacted me the same moment I had started to regularise my affairs,” he revealed. “My father lives in Switzerland, he had opened an account in Geneva, he did not have an enormous amount of money under it (247,000 euros according to our information). I did not know that it was illegal. I regularised everything in 2012, and I don’t have money over there any more.” Gérard Miller had a similar experience. His testimony echoes that of lawyer Michel Tubiana, or of Richard Prasquier, ex-president of the Conseil representative des institutions juives de France (CRIF). Paul Bocuse is not in the same class. The celebrated chef pleads a thoughtless mistake. He held an account well stocked with 2.2 million euros.

But besides the identity of the tax evaders, which will all be known by the police, the biggest impact of this inquiry will be when it moves onto leaning on the internal practices of HSBC. When contacted, the bank assured us it is combating tax evasion and adheres to the laws. The information confided by the judges Renaud Van Ruymbeke and Charlotte Bilger suggests the contrary.

The investigators have seized the visitors reports of account managers at HSBC, when advising their clients. First, a certainty. According to the public prosecutor in Paris, François Molins, contacted by Le Monde, “nothing leads us to think that the files have been manipulated to give a false impression.” Et donc voila the protests of the Swiss authorities, who maintain the files have been altered.

The police, in a report of the 1st August, want to “direct the investigation towards the system put in place by HSBC to bypass the ESD tax.” The ESD tax derives from a European directive on the taxing of savings, applied to bank accounts from 2005. According to the inquirers, in view of the reports on the visits of 239 French clients, “the bank proposed in systematic fashion diverse evasion tactics in order to avoid the levy. Even worse, the bank also offers its services for setting up a company.”

The judges have already prepared precise testimonials. Like those of Parisian lawyer Laurent Azoulai. He, who wanted to standardise his affairs in Switzerland, – almost a million euros – was faced with the opposition of HSBC. He cites in defence of his view the case of a manager, who “tried with insistence to dissuade me from standardising my accounts.” And explains, “He told me that there were these stolen documents and that to try and regularise my situation, I would have to go up against the wrath of the French tax authorities. In a word, he was trying to make me afraid.” The investigators have also obtained extracts indicating that the bank would have recommended to certain of its clients to destroy their files…

The magistrates now have to try and identify the people eligible for numerous offshore companies, but also the true beneficiaries of the accounts attributed on the listings, the “HSBC employees” without doubt to blame, who could not use anything but fake names. The French establishment has not yet stopped quivering.

(link to original article, http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2014/01/27/evasion-fiscale-les-secrets-des-fichiers-suisses-de-hsbc_4354900_3224.html)

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