Swiss prosecutor raids HSBC office, opens criminal inquiry

Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:24pm EST
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By Marina Depetris

GENEVA (Reuters) - Geneva's public prosecutor searched HSBC's (HSBA.L: Quote) lakeside Swiss office on Wednesday after opening a criminal inquiry into allegations of aggravated money laundering, the second probe to hit the bank this week.

Europe's largest lender is in regulators' sights after details about how its Swiss private bank allegedly helped wealthy clients dodge taxes were leaked to the media and published last week.

In an unusual move, the Geneva prosecutor's office notified the media of the raid as it was going on. It searched two HSBC offices and said its investigation could target individuals, who would be liable to a fine and up to five years in prison if found guilty of serious money laundering offences.

"As of now, we aim at securing all the information concerning the accounts and clients who have been mentioned as detaining funds resulting from criminal offences," Attorney General Olivier Jornot told reporters.

"What we are looking for today is not yet proof. What we are looking for today are all documents, all information which will then allow us to make an analysis."

HSBC has apologized to customers and investors over the previous failings of its Swiss business and has said the operation has since been overhauled.

However, Britain's financial watchdog said on Monday it would investigate HSBC and focus on its current behavior.

HSBC's Swiss unit has been in the spotlight since 2008 when a former IT employee Hérvé Falciani fled Geneva with files which are alleged to show evidence of tax evasion by clients.   Continued...

A HSBC logo is pictured behind the flag of the canton of Geneva at a Swiss branch of the bank in Geneva February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse