FRENCH magistrates yesterday announced a criminal investigation into HSBC’s Swiss Private Bank, reviving the row which embarrassed bosses at the UK-based global giant. But HSBC said it would appeal against the decision.
The authorities set bail for the bank at €1bn (£724m), a level which the lender described as “unwarranted and excessive”.
The investigation relates to alleged tax-related offences in the Swiss unit in 2006 and 2007.
“HSBC Holdings plc believes the French magistrates’ decision is without legal basis,” the bank said in a market announcement. “It intends to appeal and will defend itself vigorously in any future proceedings.”
HSBC took a public beating after a swathe of documents with details of account holders were leaked to the Guardian newspaper earlier this year.
Some of those details appeared to show tax evasion by rich individuals from across the globe, using the Swiss unit to shelter funds from the authorities in their home countries.
HSBC’s chairman Douglas Flint and chief executive Stuart Gulliver appeared several times before committees of MPs to explain the situation in Switzerland and what they had done to stop tax evasion since.
It proved difficult to pin the blame for the wrongdoing on any specific individuals, with Gulliver pointing the finger ultimately at the account managers themselves.
HM Revenue and Customs also received criticism, as of the thousand possible cases of evasion it only managed a single prosecution.
HSBC’s shares closed up 2.9 per cent on the back of improving emerging markets sentiment.