Canada, France probe HSBC Swiss bank accounts

Thu Sep 30, 2010 5:24pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - French investigators are probing some 1,500 Canadian-registered Swiss bank accounts at HSBC as part of a crackdown on unreported wealth, the head of Canada's revenue agency said on Thursday.

Authorities are looking into accounts obtained from a former HSBC worker who allegedly stole the records from the bank and handed them over to investigators. Canadian tax authorities are working with the French investigatorsù

HSBC, Europe's largest bank, said it was cooperating with the probe.

The paper trails marks the latest breach of strict bank secrecy laws that make Switzerland a popular tax haven, and comes as Canadians are increasingly storing money in offshore tax havens.

"The largest accounts are now being audited, and others will follow. All accounts that are linked to Canadian taxpayers will be reviewed," Keith Ashfield, minister of national revenue, said in a statement entitled "Canada cracks down on unreported offshore account holders".

While it is not illegal for Canadians to hold Swiss bank accounts, they must declare all their income to Canadian tax authorities.

No allegations of wrongdoing by Canadians were mentioned by the minister or in initial media reports about the probe.

Government and academic studies in recent years say that Canadian investments in offshore tax havens has ballooned in the past decade.   Continued...