UK may follow U.S. lead if pursues HSBC over tax

Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:53pm EST
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By Tom Bergin

LONDON (Reuters) - British authorities may follow a trail set by their U.S. counterparts in investigating allegations that HSBC's Swiss private bank helped its customers dodge taxes, lawyers say.

Any prosecution against the bank or individuals could hinge on whether HSBC's Swiss private banking unit sent staff to the UK and advised clients on how to evade British taxes and whether top executives were aware of any such advice.

The U.S. has set the pace for legal action in such cases, where prosecutions of Swiss banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse, for helping U.S. clients evade taxes, have relied on the fact bankers not only serviced clients from Switzerland but traveled to the United States to drum up business. The banks ended up paying billions of dollars to settle the charges.

A similar legal argument could apply in the UK.

    “If there were conversations here, in furtherance of an agreement to commit dishonest tax crime, then that would be enough to give the UK jurisdiction,” said Monty Raphael, a lawyer who specializes in white collar crime and tax cases.

Three other tax experts echoed his comments.

A BBC report on Monday alleged that staff from HSBC's Swiss private bank traveled to the UK on at least two occasions to advise clients on how to evade paying taxes.

The report was based on data leaked by former HSBC employee Herve Falciani which was published on Sunday by news outlets and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) but which could not be independently verified by Reuters.   Continued...

The HSBC bank logo is pictured at a branch office at the Paradeplatz in Zurich February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann