US And Canada Report

Swiss Prosecutors Search Offices of HSBC Unit

Swiss Prosecutors Search Offices of HSBC Unit

Local prosecutors in Switzerland conducted a search of the offices of HSBC’s Swiss private bank in Geneva on Wednesday as part of a new investigation into potential money laundering. The Geneva prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that it had opened a criminal inquiry into possible aggravated money laundering against HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), but it did not provide additional details.HSBC-good3-620x310

Depending on the results of the inquiry, the process is likely to extend to individuals who would be suspected of committing money laundering or participating in those acts, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The latest inquiry comes amid recent media reports providing new details about efforts by HSBC, a British bank, and its Swiss private banking arm to help wealthy clients avoid taxes. The activity at issue dated back to 2007.

In a report earlier this month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an organization based in Washington, along with several news organizations, said secret documents showed that bank employees had reassured clients that HSBC would not disclose details of their accounts to tax authorities in their home countries and discussed options to avoid paying taxes on those assets. The report was based on documents that were taken from HSBC by a former employee in Switzerland in 2007 and given to French authorities, who in 2010 shared them with officials in the Britain, the United States and other nations.

“We have cooperated continuously with the Swiss authorities since first becoming aware of the data theft” and the bank continues to cooperate, a HSBC spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The former employee, Hervé Falciani, is facing criminal charges in Switzerland over breaching that country’s bank secrecy laws. He now lives in France and has not returned to Switzerland to face the charges.

HSBC has said that its Swiss operations ‘‘have undergone a radical transformation’’ in recent years and that its Swiss banking client base has shrunk by about 70 percent since 2007. On Sunday, the bank published a full-page advertisement in newspapers in Britain, in the form of an open letter from its chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, apologizing to its customers and saying the recent media coverage has been a “painful experience.”