HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers evade taxes and hide millions of dollars of assets, a huge cache of leaked files about more than 100,000 secret bank accounts from 2005-2007 has shown.
A team of journalists from 45 countries, including outlets like France’s Le Monde, the BBC, the Guardian, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have combed through the roughly 60,000 documents and recently began publishing stories showing how the Swiss private bank helped wealthy clients dodge taxes.
Data visualization specialist Martin Grandjean created the map below based on some of that leaked data. For more than $100 billion of accounts at HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm between 2005 and 2007, Grandjean mapped the amount of the accounts by the country origin of the account holder, which could be an individual or a company.
According to ICIJ, many of the accounts were held by companies in offshore tax havens like the British Virgin Islands or Panama, rather than by the individuals who owned the money. The results show a lot of money flowing into the Swiss banking system from Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. Notorious tax havens, like Switzerland, the Caribbean, Jersey and Guernsey, appear prominently on the map, while much of Africa and Asia are underrepresented.
Just having a Swiss bank account is no indication of any wrongdoing, but in practice the accounts are often used to hide cash from tax authorities. According to ICIJ, academics estimates that around $7.6 trillion is stored in overseas tax havens, costing governments at least $200 billion a year in lost revenue.
HSBC’s Swiss banking arm is now under investigation for suspected aggravated money laundering; it also faces criminal investigations in the U.S., France, Belgium and Argentina, though not in its home country, the U.K. HSBC has acknowledged that its compliance culture and standards of due diligence at the time “were significantly lower than they are today,” and said it has “taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.”