HSBC said on Monday that “in the past” its Swiss private bank had some clients “that may not have fully met their applicable tax obligations”. It added that it had undertaken “significant” reforms in recent years and reduced its Swiss private bank client base by 70 per cent since 2007.
It made the statement in response to stories by a number of international news outlets, which received leaked files that were stolen in 2007 by Hervé Falciani, formerly an IT expert at HSBC’s Swiss operation.
The bank’s Swiss private banking operations are, however, not the only ones to have come under scrutiny. Below is a timeline of the build-up of HSBC’s private banking and other international operations that have been called into question.
Dec 1999:HSBC Private Bank is established after HSBC Holdings acquires Republic New York Corporation and Safra Republic Holdings.
Aug 2002: HSBC buys Grupo Financiero Bital in Mexico.
Jun 2003: Stephen Green, formerly responsible for private banking, takes over as HSBC group chief executive.
May 2006: Mr Green becomes HSBC chairman.
Jul 2007: HSBC’s senior manager of group compliance warns that the anti-money laundering committee in Mexico is “not functioning properly”.
Dec 2008: Hervé Falciani is arrested in Geneva, then released. He had hacked into 30,000 accounts holding more than $100bn in assets. He flees to France with the data where he is detained but not extradited after authorities realise his information could reveal the names of thousands of tax evaders.
Early 2010: In France, then finance minister Christine Lagarde, prepares a list of names for other countries of people mentioned in the data taken by Mr Falciani. The so-called “Lagarde list” results in arrests in Greece, Spain, the US, Argentina and Belgium. In the UK, HMRC, the tax agency, identifies more than 1,000 tax evaders from the list. More than £135m is recovered in repayments but only one person prosecuted. No legal action was taken against HSBC.
Feb 2010: US Senate investigators criticise HSBC for providing Banco Africano de Investimentos, an Angolan private bank, “ready access” to the US financial system despite the African lender’s allegedly poor anti-money laundering controls.
Separately, the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a regulator, “identified deficiencies” in the HSBC’s anti-money laundering practices and among other requirements, ordered the bank to hire a permanent regional compliance officer and submit full compliance plans in policing improper money flows.
Jan 2011: Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the former chairman of HSBC, becomes minister of state for trade and investment in the British government.
Dec 2012: HSBC signs five-year deferred prosecution agreement with US authorities after admitting that it processed drug-trafficking proceeds through Mexico and transmitted funds from sanctioned countries including Iran. The DPA puts it at risk of a criminal conviction and potential loss of its crucial US banking licence if it commits another crime in that period.
Earlier in the year HSBC raised its provision for mis-selling payment protection insurance in the UK to $2.4bn.
Dec 2013: Lord Green leaves role as trade minister.
May 2014: The European Commission charges HSBC, along with JPMorgan and Crédit Agricole for allegedly participating in a cartel to manipulate the Euribor interest rate benchmark after the three banks hold out against a settlement reached with other institutions. The case is pending.
Sep 2014: HSBC agrees to pay $550m to settle US government allegations that it mis-sold mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.
Nov 2014: HSBC pays US and UK regulators $618m when it is one of six banks fined a total of $4.3bn for their involvement in a foreign exchange rate-rigging scandal.
Feb 2015: The full extent of the Falciani leaks are exposed in the media.