Spain probes some 3,000 accounts held by Spaniards at HSBC Switzerland in fight on tax fraud

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spain probes 3,000 Swiss bank accounts for fraud

MADRID — Treasury inspectors are probing some 3,000 accounts held by Spaniards at HSBC bank in Switzerland for possible tax fraud, the finance minister said Thursday — accounts that media reports said could involve more than €6 billion ($7.36 billion).

Finance Minister Elena Salgado said the owners of the accounts had been notified and asked to clarify whether they have declared the money in the accounts.

“The account holders have been advised. They have to put the accounts in order with the Treasury and of course they will receive the corresponding sanctions and penalties,” Salgado said in an interview with Spanish National Television.

She declined to give details of the amount of money involved but said it was part of Spain’s campaign to combat tax fraud, especially since the country is struggling economically.

“The treasury is very active against fraud,” she said. “We’re stepping up our efforts now because in times of economic difficulties we think the signal that we are determined to fight fraud is even more important.”

Spain, the fourth largest economy in the 16-nation euro zone, is battling to emerge from nearly two years of recession. It has a bloated deficit of 11.2 percent of GDP in 2009 and a eurozone high 20 percent unemployment rate.

Salgado said Spain had recovered more than €35 billion ($42.92 billion) in recent years by cracking down on tax evaders.

Daily El Pais says the accounts being probed are in the Swiss branch of the bank HSBC and that French authorities had tipped Spain off about them.

In January 2009, French officials, on a request from Swiss authorities, seized files stolen by an ex-employee of HSBC that included data on some 127,000 accounts held by people from 180 countries.

HSBC spokesman in Switzerland Pascal Dubey said the bank so far was in the dark about the investigation.

“The bank has Spanish clients. But we do not know if these were our stolen data that were given to Spain because we have not received any official confirmation from France or from Spain,” he said.

Salgado said the cross-border fight against fraud was increasing every day.

“We are perfecting our instruments for collaboration,” she said. “All countries are determined to end fiscal paradises.”

Switzerland has long been a favored destination for rich individuals to hide money from tax authorities, but in recent years efforts by the Group of 20 largest economies to force offshore banking destinations to be more transparent have diluted the country’s image as a safe haven to stash one’s cash.


Associated Press Writers Eliane Engeler in Geneva and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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