MILAN — After WikiLeaks, it is now Swiss Leaks’ turn to ripple around the world.
The almost 60,000 leaked files that provide details on 106,000 HSBC clients from 203 countries and their bank accounts is sending shock waves beyond the lake of Geneva, where the Swiss private bank unit is based, unearthing a tax evasion scheme totaling more than $100 billion.
Drawn up by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the documents, which were made public on Sunday, detail client and account data from the 1988 to 2007 period and amounts from 2006 and 2007.
The individuals whose accounts are listed range from Jordan’s monarch King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein and Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said of Oman to artists including Phil Collins, Christian Slater, Joan Collins and Charlotte Casiraghi’s beau Gad Elmaleh. Fashion is also represented by Valentino Garavani, Diane von Furstenberg, Elle Macpherson, hairdresser Jacques Dessange and the late Helmut Newton.
However, the organization stresses that simply appearing on the list does not indicate any wrongdoing. According to the Web site, which allows users to explore the Swiss leaks, the organization states that “there are legitimate uses for Swiss bank accounts and trusts,” and that it does “not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Swiss Leaks interactive application have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”
As per the organization, von Furstenberg was “linked to four HSBC client accounts: two numbered that were opened in 1988 and later closed in 1996 and 2002.” Another account was under the name “Thunderbird Investments Ltd.,” in which the designer appeared as the beneficial owner, opened in 1994 and closed in 2002. There was also one account for “Licom Ltd.” The site claims that “two family members were also linked to the client account. Von Furstenberg’s mother was listed as beneficial owner of the account and then stricken. ‘Licom Ltd.’ listed seven bank accounts that together held as much as $6,268,217 in 2006–07.”
Comments from a spokeswoman for the site contend that von Furstenberg “inherited Thunderbird Investments Ltd. from her parents, who were not American tax residents, and that she never received anything from Licom Ltd.” The designer, added the spokeswoman, “made all necessary U.S. tax filings and insisted that the assets be domesticated to the United States more than 10 years ago.”
According to the consortium, Macpherson was connected to seven HSBC client accounts and was “beneficial owner of five of them. The four client accounts still operative in 2008 were linked to 25 bank accounts that together held as much as $12.2 million in 2006–2007. Three of the accounts for which she was the beneficial owner were closed in 2000, 2001 and 2004.”
The lawyers of the model-turned-entrepreneur argued that Macpherson is “an Australian citizen who has accounted for U.K. tax on the basis of full disclosure in accordance with U.K. law.”
As for Dessange, his lawyer told ICIJ reporting partner Le Monde that he had “regularized his situation with tax authorities two or three years ago. It cost him a lot.”
Valentino became a client of HSBC in 2000, and the leaked files reveal the Italian couturier “was connected to at least nine bank accounts through a numbered client account labeled ‘3326 CR,’ created in 2001, that held as much as $108.4 million in 2006–07. He was listed as ‘Attorney A’ and ‘beneficial owner’ of the account. Garavani was part beneficial owner of two other client accounts opened in 2000 and closed in 2004: Dibag Fashion Developments NV Rub VG and Dibag Fashion Developments NV Rub GG.”
As previously reported by WWD, in connection with a $45 million fine levied in 2009 on the designer and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, for allegedly evading tax payments in Italy, their lawyer, Marino Bastianini, stated that both men have been residents of the U.K. for almost a decade and have “in that period always declared and been subject to tax in the United Kingdom, which included taxation of the consultancy income received from the Valentino company. The dispute with the Italian authorities is, in essence, not about tax evasion but related to the interpretation of facts and circumstances concerning tax residency. The issue has been [the] subject of a previous investigation in Italy and the U.K. and on both occasions the U.K. residency has been considered in full compliance with the Italian and U.K. tax regime, thus acknowledging the legitimacy of their U.K. residency.” Bastianini said the issue “disregarded some elements which were previously taken into consideration.”
As reported in 2011, Valentino allegedly appeared on the list of HSBC account holders stolen by former employee Hervé Falciani, based in the bank’s Geneva offices, who pocketed 127,000 files of bank accounts in 2008 with the intention of selling the information. Valentino went on to cooperate with the French government, and its tax police launched an investigation, as did other police forces around the world.
As explained by the ICIJ, French newspaper Le Monde obtained a version of the tax authority data, and “shared it with ICIJ with the agreement that it would assemble a global team of journalists to explore the data and produce this reporting project.”
According to the news organization, the private banking branch of HSBC was also handling secret accounts for criminals ranging from arms dealers to diamond merchants and drug cartels. Top countries in terms of the number of clients include, in order, Switzerland, with more than 11,000; France; the U.K.; Brazil, and Italy, with more than 7,000 individuals. By value, Switzerland, with $31.2 billion, ranks first, followed by the U.K., Venezuela, the U.S. with $13.4 billion, and France.
Since 2013, the Swiss government has been taking steps to align the nation’s bank practices with those of other countries and effectively end the immense secrecy that clients of Swiss banks enjoyed in the past.