Britain’s biggest bank is at the centre of a major HM Revenue and Customs investigation after it opened offshore accounts in Jersey for serious criminals living in this country, The Telegraph can disclose.
This work is expected to lead to the identification of hundreds of people who are evading tax as the accounts have not been previously disclosed.
Last night, a spokesman for HMRC said: “We can confirm we have received the data and we are studying it. We receive information from a very wide range of sources which we use to ensure the tax rules are being respected.
“Clamping down on those who try to cheat the system through evading taxes and over claiming benefits is a top priority for us and we value the information we receive from the public and business community.”
The Telegraph has established from public records that HSBC has opened bank accounts in Jersey for several people who are wanted by the police or have serious criminal convictions.
The information obtained by HMRC is thought to be the biggest data leak identifying holders of offshore accounts ever obtained by the British tax authorities.
The list identifies 4,388 people holding £699 million in offshore current accounts and they are also likely to have billions of pounds more in investment schemes. Several celebrities and other well-known figures are understood to be identified in the client data.
Tax authorities around the world are involved in an increasingly aggressive race to obtain details of their citizens with offshore bank accounts, many of which are suspected to be linked to tax evasion or other criminal activity. An insider at HSBC in Switzerland has already sold details of the bank’s clients in Geneva to tax authorities in 2008. This led to the creation of the so-called “Lagarde list”, named after the then French finance minister, with about 2,000 Britons identified. Last week, a Greek journalist was threatened with prosecution after disclosing details of Greek account holders on the Lagarde list.
The leak of the Jersey data, which is understood not to have involved HMRC paying for the list, is expected to have global ramifications as more than 4,000 residents of other countries are identified, although British residents account for more than half of all the clients.
The HSBC Jersey client list is understood to be heavily dominated by senior figures in the City. Dozens of bankers are understood to have deposited six-figure sums offshore with some institutions said to have “clusters” of employees taking advantage of the accounts.
Doctors, mining and oil executives and oil workers are also heavily represented in the list. More unexpectedly, a greengrocer in the East End is understood to have more than £80,000 in his HSBC current account in Jersey.
Although some of the individuals may have declared the offshore holdings, HMRC is currently understood to be comparing the new documents with tax records to identify anomalies.
One investment manager has more than £6 million in his account, while the average amount held is £337,000. Under Britain’s non-domicile rules, those with foreign roots only have to pay tax on money entering Britain – provided it is earned abroad. However, more seriously for HSBC, dozens of people with no obvious legal source of substantial income are holding large sums in Jersey.
Daniel Bayes was branded “monstrous” for refusing to return from Venezuela after £500,000 of cannabis was found growing at his farm in 2006.
His father was jailed for three years in his absence. Mr Bayes is understood to have deposited £250,000 in an offshore account, although police said they would still like to question him.
A couple who live in a small house in Teignmouth, Devon, deposited £85,000 in an offshore account. More than 300 firearms, including Israeli Uzi submachine guns and pump-action shotguns, were found in their house after a police raid in 2001. Michael Lee was jailed for two years in 2002.
Around the world, HSBC has faced repeated accusations that it was not maintaining sufficient controls over the source of money deposited in its accounts. Money laundering rules demand that banks monitor the source of money and report any suspicions to the relevant authorities. Most banks take an active approach to this duty.
In July, a US Senate investigation found that money-laundering controls were largely absent in HSBC’s operations in Mexico. The bank has also faced serious criticism for hiding Iranian transactions.
One analyst called HSBC’s practices “a wink/nod business model” that showed “a profound lack of controls”.
Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, previously admitted: “We failed to spot and deal with unacceptable behaviour.” He insisted the bank would begin to operate at “a single standard globally that is determined by the highest standard we must apply anywhere”.
A spokesman for the bank said last night: “HSBC has a duty of confidentiality and cannot comment on clients even to confirm or deny they are clients. We have good relationships with our regulators and co-operate with investigations when required to do so.”
Whistle-blowers helping authorities chase tax evaders
TAX authorities around the world are involved in an increasingly aggressive and often clandestine race to gain information on the identities of those with offshore bank accounts.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to whistle-blowers in return for information about offshore account holders. German authorities reportedly paid €2.5 million (£1.9 million) to an unnamed individual for a CD containing details of HSBC clients in Switzerland in 2010.
The data contained information that led prosecutors to believe that more than £1 billion of undeclared income had been deposited by 1,100 wealthy Germans.
Last week, a Greek magazine published a list of HSBC’s Swiss bank account holders. It is known as the “Lagarde List”, because the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde — now the International Monetary Fund director — handed it to Greek authorities in 2010.
HMRC also received details of British residents from this list and has investigated 500 of those identified.
HMRC is understood not to have paid for information about HSBC’s Jersey clients but the data it has received is thought to be the single biggest disclosure of a bank’s offshore customers.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the whistleblower who has obtained the information also has further lists of offshore HSBC clients with addresses outside Britain, including 602 in Israel, 527 in France, 333 in Spain and 117 in the US. In total, the leaked HSBC Jersey client list is thought to contain the names and addresses of 8,474 people. More than half are based in this country.
The use of tax havens by British residents and citizens to minimise tax is legal but subject to a range of complex rules and regulations. British taxpayers have a duty to report to HMRC details of money held offshore that is liable to tax.