Britain's biggest bank HSBC has been put under formal criminal investigation by the French authorities for the activities of its Swiss private bank.
In a statement to the market, the bank said it had been informed of the probe, into “alleged tax-related offences” between 2006 and 2007, by the French magistrates. At that time, a €1bn bail was imposed.
HSBC has been the subject of an investigation into alleged tax fraud, involving 3,000 French taxpayers. In March, a French prosecutor indicated that the Swiss arm should face criminal charges.
The bank said today:
HSBC Holdings plc believes the French magistrates' decision is without legal basis and the bail is unwarranted and excessive.It intends to appeal and will defend itself vigorously in any future proceedings.
The news follows a leak of documents earlier this year showing that the bank's Swiss arm helped clients around the world dodge taxes.
The files concerned more than 100,000 accounts holding more than $100bn, which were stolen in 2007 by a computer expert working for HSBC in Geneva.
Investors appeared non-plussed by the news, however: HSBC's share price has barely registered the news, and was still trading 2.3 per cent up at pixel time.