BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina has charged HSBC with aiding more than 4,000 clients to evade taxes by stashing their money in secret Swiss bank accounts, the country’s AFIP tax authority said on Thursday.
AFIP said it received the information on the secret accounts from France, which last week placed HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm under formal investigation for possibly aiding tax evasion.
“We denounce the existence of an illegal platform created by three banking entities (of HSBC) that are operating in Argentina,” Ricardo Echegaray, the head of Argentina’s AFIP tax agency, told a news conference.
“Its managers have intervened actively with the sole aim of helping Argentine citizens avoid paying their taxes.”
HSBC Argentina rejected the charges in an emailed statement to Reuters, saying it respected Argentine law.
“HSBC Argentina emphatically rejects (the charge) of its participation in any illicit association, including any organization that would allow the transfer of capital in order to evade taxes,” the bank said.
Argentina’s move comes as part of a global crackdown on undeclared funds held in offshore havens, after the global financial crisis strained government budgets and made the need to maximize tax receipts more pressing.
Switzerland has become the world’s biggest offshore financial center thanks to strict banking secrecy laws in the Alpine country.
Belgium last week charged HSBC Private Bank with tax fraud and money laundering. Stolen personal details of HSBC clients in Switzerland were passed on to Belgian and French authorities in 2010.
Earlier this month, AFIP accused Procter & Gamble, the world’s No. 1 household products maker, of tax fraud and said it suspended its operations in the South American country.
AFIP did not say on Thursday it had suspended HSBC’s operations.
Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Nick Zieminski