Brits cracking down on wealthy tax dodgers

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    British bank HSBC says it is cooperating with an investigation into allegations the firm helped rich clients dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets.
    Parliamentary group the Public Accounts Committee said it would open an inquiry after details of the tax evasion were leaked by a former HSBC employee, Herve Falciani.
    "Today's shocking revelations about HSBC further expose a secretive global industry serving a wealthy elite," committee chair Margaret Hodge told the BBC.
    "The Public Accounts Committee will be launching an urgent inquiry to which we will require HSBC to give evidence - and we will order them if necessary."
    The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which coordinated the reporting, said a list of people who held HSBC accounts in Switzerland included soccer and tennis professionals, rock stars and Hollywood actors.
    The allegations caused a political storm in Britain on Monday, with the main Conservative and Labour parties accusing each other of being to blame.
    Stephen Green, who was head of HSBC at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, was appointed to the House of Lords by prime minister David Cameron's Conservatives in 2010.
    Mr Green, a former trade minister, has refused to questions from the media, saying he would "not comment on the business of HSBC past or present".
    The prime minister was strongly criticised by the opposition Labour party for his decision to appoint Mr Green, but stood by the decision.
    "Stephen Green was an excellent trade minister, he did a good job," Mr Cameron said.
    "I'd also add no government has done more than this one to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance."
    A spokesman for HSBC declined comment on the investigations.
    Royalty, arms dealers among HSBC Swiss client list

    The ICIJ files list a range of former and current politicians from Britain, Russia, India and Africa, as well as Saudi, Bahraini, Jordanian and Moroccan royalty, late Australian press magnate Kerry Packer and model Elle Macpherson.
    Uruguayan soccer player Diego Forlan, who was also on the list, has denied evading taxes by hiding money in Swiss accounts with HSBC.
    The documents also listed arms dealers, people linked to former dictators and traffickers in blood diamonds.
    Photo: Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan has denied he evaded taxes by hiding money in Switzerland. (AFP: Ronaldo Schemidt)
    Several individuals on the current US sanctions list were also named including Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
    Mr Timchenko's Volga Group declined to comment.
    "We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures," HSBC said late on Sunday after news outlets published the allegations about its Swiss private bank.
    HSBC said that its Swiss arm had not been fully integrated into the firm after its purchase in 1999, allowing "significantly lower" standards of compliance and due diligence to persist.
    The banking giant said the Swiss private banking industry operated differently in the past and this may have resulted in HSBC having had "a number of clients that may not have been fully compliant with their applicable tax obligations".
    Its private bank, especially its Swiss arm, had undergone "a radical transformation" in recent years, it said in a four-page statement.
    Authorities in France, Belgium and Argentina have said they are investigating the tax matters.

    Dave R.
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