French HSBC tax case report reveals $5 billion in Swiss funds

Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:58am EDT
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By Lionel Laurent and Emile Picy

PARIS (Reuters) - France needs to beef up its methods of fighting tax evasion, according to a parliamentary report on a probe into HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote) that revealed $5 billion of undeclared assets in thousands of Swiss bank accounts.

The report, published on Wednesday, looked at why it took French authorities more than four years to begin an investigation after a former HSBC employee gave them a list of people who held money at the global bank's Swiss arm.

"The case of the HSBC list has shed light on the weaknesses in our legal arsenal in the fight against systematic tax fraud," lawmaker Christian Eckert wrote in the report on behalf of the National Assembly's finance committee.

France, like countries across the world, is cracking down on tax after the global financial crisis put government budgets under strain and increased the need to maximize tax receipts.

The country began a formal investigation into HSBC in April over whether it sold products designed to avoid French tax.

French lawmakers, including Eckert, questioned ex-HSBC employee Herve Falciani on July 2 as part of their inquiry.

Falciani, a Franco-Italian, is living in France after taking refuge in Spain from Swiss authorities seeking his extradition on charges of data theft.

An HSBC spokesman declined to comment on the report, reiterating the bank's view that Falciani had stolen the client data. However, he said the bank would study it.   Continued...

The logo of HSBC bank is seen at its office in the Canary Wharf business district of London April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren