​HSBC tax scam: Whistleblowing email to UK govt agency uncovered

Herve Falciani.(Reuters / Andrea Comas )
An email sent by HSBC whistleblower Herve Falciani to British tax authorities, which they denied ever receiving, has been discovered by a French newspaper.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) denied contact with Falciani, 43, who is at the center of one of the biggest financial leaks in history.

But French newspaper Le Monde has since uncovered the email, which Falciani sent to HMRC in 2008 informing the authority about HSBC’s alleged tax avoidance scheme.

It supports his previous allegations that HMRC did not act on information he provided the agency.

It proved I’m right,” Falciani told the BBC. “It required seven years of battles to get the point we are just now.”

Liz Nelson of the Tax Justice Network told RT HMRC's missing email sounded "disingenuous."

The former IT systems engineer for HSBC’s private banking operation in Switzerland stole the details of 30,000 bank accounts, totaling £78 billion, in 2007.

Swiss authorities issued an arrest warrant for Falciani for breaching their banking secrecy laws. He fled to France in 2008. The Swiss government continues to seek his prosecution.

Falciani then leaked the details to French authorities, who refused to extradite him to Switzerland when they realized the data could help identify thousands of French tax evaders.

The files have since been handed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Falciani, who claims his family has received death threats since he made the leak, now lives in France under police protection.

The files reveal how HSBC Private Bank not only helped clients dodge taxes in their home countries, but also aggressively marketed the schemes.

Reuters / Arnd Wiegmann

HSBC in Switzerland actively contacted wealthy clients in 2005 to suggest ways of avoiding a new tax levied on the Swiss accounts of EU citizens, The Guardian reports.

The documents also reveal how HSBC Private Bank provided accounts for relatives of heads of state, people implicated in African corruption scandals, arms industry figures and others.

An HSBC bank branch in France laundered drug money collected from the sale of cannabis to immigrants in the Parisian suburbs, depositing the cash in the accounts of respectable clients in the French capital and reimbursing the drug dealers via their Swiss branch.

The leaks have caused a row in the UK over accountability, with Britain’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) challenging HMRC over its inaction.

In a hearing Wednesday, it emerged that of the 150 files seen by the tax authority only three were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Of those, only one case was taken by the CPS.

Jennie Grainger, HMRC’s director general for enforcement and compliance, said it was extremely difficult to prosecute individuals for offshore tax evasion.

In the case of stolen or leaked data, guilt could only be proven using supplementary evidence, she said.

When probed on whether ministers were informed about HSBC’s practices, she initially said she was unsure, but later conceded concerns were passed on to ministers at the time.

Speaking to RT, Liz Nelson of the Tax Justice Network said: "These so called missing email - sounds disingenuous to those people [and] businesses that work hard and pay their fair share of tax."

"There seems to be a culture at HMRC of tolerance towards tax avoidance because to be other would be anti-business, and that taxing the very wealthy is somehow anti-business."

Lord Green, who was CEO and then chairman of HSBC during the period which the leaks cover, was later made a member of the House of Lords and then trade minister by the Conservative-led coalition government.

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Green was appointed to a Cabinet committee on post-banking crisis reform by Prime Minister David Cameron, all of which happened after HMRC received data detailing the extent of HSBC’s tax avoidance schemes.

The Conservative party has come under fire after it emerged several of its key donors avoided tax in Swiss bank accounts.

Lord Fink, who donated £3 million to the Tories and was appointed a party treasurer, said he took “vanilla” tax avoidance measures.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Fink said, “Everyone does tax avoidance on some level.