SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s tax watchdog opened a probe on whether about a dozen people involved in the Petrobras corruption scandal also allegedly had undeclared accounts with HSBC Holdings Plc’s private bank in Switzerland, two sources with knowledge of the situation said on Saturday.
A former manager at the state-controlled oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro SA had an account at HSBC’s private Swiss bank, said the first source, who requested anonymity since the probe has not been made public. Others include an illegal money changer and two executives from engineering and oil equipment firms that had contracts with the firm, which is known as Petrobras, the same source added.
The sources did not name the people being probed.
The tax watchdog, known as Receita Federal, declined to comment. Efforts to contact members of HSBC’s media office in São Paulo were unsuccessful.
HSBC this week admitted failings in compliance and controls in its Swiss private bank after media reports alleged it helped wealthy customers conceal millions of dollars of assets in a period up to 2007. However HSBC noted that there are numerous legitimate reasons for having a Swiss bank account.
In what is being called Brazil’s worst corruption scandal in history, prosecutors allege that politicians from President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling coalition used Petrobras to skim billions of reais through overpriced contracts for over a decade. So far more than 40 people have been detained over their involvement in the scandal, which is known in the country as “Operation Car Wash.”
The second source said that “there is a clear link between ‘Operation Car-Wash’ and the HSBC Swiss bank accounts.” He declined to elaborate further and Reuters could not independently verify his account.
It is not illegal for Brazilians to have accounts abroad, so long as they declare their assets to tax authorities.
Late on Friday, Receita launched a broader investigation to determine whether Brazilians were involved in opening over 6,600 undeclared accounts with HSBC’s Swiss private bank. The accounts under investigation were opened between 1988 and 2006 and had an estimated value of $7 billion at the end of that period, a Receita statement said.
“Preliminary analyses of some taxpayers have already helped establish the hypothesis of potential omission or data incompatibility with their respective tax forms filed with Receita Federal,” the statement added. Receita is considering asking other countries for cooperation with its investigation.
HSBC’s Swiss unit was largely acquired as part of its purchase of late Brazilian-Lebanese financier Edmond Safra’s Republic New York Corp and Safra Republic Holdings.
Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Frances Kerry