A HSBC branch in Geneva
A HSBC branch in Geneva

SWISS BANKING

HSBC to pay $352m to settle tax evasion charges in France

HSBC Holding PLC agreed Tuesday to pay $352 million to settle charges that it helped wealthy clients of its private Swiss bank evade taxes in France.

The investigation that resulted in the settlement was based on data found by French authorities in 2009 when they searched the home of Herve Falciani, a former IT employee of the Swiss bank who fled to France from Geneva. Swiss prosecutors, concerned that he had information from thousands of bank files from 2006 and 2007, had requested the search.

The same data was later obtained by ICIJ via the French newspaper Le Monde and resulted in the Swiss Leaks investigation. The data, which covered accounts holding more than $100 billion, disclosed the bank’s dealings with clients, including those engaged in behavior that included tax evasion, bribery and arms dealing.

“HSBC has publicly acknowledged historical control weaknesses at the Swiss Private Bank on a number of occasions and has taken firm steps to address them,” the bank said in statement.

The investigation focused on whether HSBC’s Swiss bank had helped its clients to illegally avoid paying taxes worth $1.9 billion in the years covered by the data.

The settlement was the first under a French law introduced in 2016 and similar to deferred prosecution agreements in the United States, which allows companies to settle without an admission of guilt.

“The investigation regarding HSBC Holdings has been dismissed,” HSBC said in its statement. The bank also said it had already made provisions for payment of the settlement, so it won’t negatively impact its financial results.