HSBC pays Swiss authorities record-breaking fine

Four months after a historic police raid, Geneva’s prosecutor dropped a criminal probe into HSBC, but left the bank with a warning.

Switzerland

The Swiss prosecutor has dropped its investigation into alleged criminal wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss branch after the bank agreed to pay a record-breaking CHF40 million ($43 million) compensation without admitting guilt.

HSBC Private Bank’s Swiss offices were raided by Swiss police 10 days after ICIJ, Le Monde, and media partners published the Swiss Leaks investigation, which revealed widespread tax avoidance and questionable conduct through the bank.

The ICIJ investigation was based on files leaked from inside the bank to French authorities, and included details on 100,000 clients linked to the HSBC Swiss branch.

At a Thursday press conference the Geneva prosecutor leading the investigation into alleged money laundering announced no criminal charges would be filed against the bank. Tax evasion is not a crime in Switzerland.

Prosecutor Olivier Jornot used the announcement to rebuke his country’s own financial laws, and cautioned the bank that it was on its final warning.

“This matter shows the weakness of Swiss law in the matter of entry of criminal funds into the financial system,” he said.

The compensation payment the bank agreed to make is the biggest ever imposed by Geneva authorities, but it does not include an admission of guilt by the bank.

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In response to the news, HSBC said it co-operated fully with Swiss authorities, and re-iterated its previous statements that the Swiss branch of the bank had undergone a comprehensive overhaul, including the shedding of 70 percent of its clients since 2007.

The Swiss investigation was just one of a number of official probes into the bank’s global operations and its activities through the Swiss branch. French prosecutors are pushing ahead with a criminal trial against the bank, and investigations continue in Belgium, Argentina, and the United States.

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