HSBC tax avoidance: bank or organised criminal gang?Current affairsFinanceNewsPolitics & Social issues
Secret bank account files have been leaked to reveal HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm actively engaging in helping clients avoid tax, conceal assets and withdraw large amounts of untraceable cash.
In the period 2005-2008, the files, gathered by various international news outlets, reveal details of HSBC granting bank accounts to high-risk clients – including corrupt businessmen and international criminals.
These wealthy customers were constantly advised on clever schemes to avoid European taxes on £78 billion worth of assets held in 30,000 accounts. One such tactic involved withdrawing huge amounts of cash from undeclared “black” accounts so that these would be untraceable in the clients’ native country, with no record ever surviving of such withdrawals.
Having large amounts of money in a private bank account is not a crime. However, using such accounts to avoid supplementing healthcare, emergency services and general social infrastructure is criminal.
Alarmingly, the HMRC had known about these files for the last five years and has yet to bring those responsible to face British courts. On the contrary, Argentina, Belgium, France and the US have already brought criminal charges to HSBC – so what is Britain waiting for?
Our coalition government, mostly under Conservative influence, has always favoured the wealthy – banks being no exception. As May’s general election looms, we may well see bankers’ bonuses slashed to curry favour with voters, with the intention of increasing them the following year if Conservatives win the election.
If loopholes are known to exist then they must be rectified. If clients of private banks are avoiding tax then they must be punished. Similarly, those employees who pushed HSBC’s tax avoidance into evasion avenues must be made accountable.
The issue here is that there is no direct victim: no black eye, no mental scarring left behind, no devastation to witness. What is present, rather, is an already struggling public infrastructure, increasingly failing to live up to expectation and receiving less financial support than required. For Britain, a country that prides itself on a health service free at the point of delivery, it needs all the money available.
There is no doubt that HSBC have facilitated tax evasion through the use and abuse of loopholes to deceive governments out of as much money as possible. Now that they have been caught, it’s time for the UK to step up with a punishment.