For now it is very possibly the tip of the iceberg, as 19,000 account holders are so far unattributed to any country. But it looks as though at least 611 of the HSBC customers found hiding their money in Switzerland had connections to Portugal.
According to Negócios Online, Portugal is 33rd in the list of countries whose clients took advantage of HSBC’s “aggressively marketed schemes” to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes in any number of countries.
As the news cuts a swathe through a Europe in which most taxpayers feel they have been decimated by taxation, Negócios Online stresses that further connections with Portugal could surface as the origins of the 19,000 ‘floating’ clients are uncovered.
For the time being, Portugal is quoted as the 45th country with the largest quantity of dollars in these hidden accounts – a total of 969 million dollars (856 million euros), or around 1% of the total revealed by the joint investigation of journalists from the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the French daily Le Monde, the BBC’s Panorama and the USA’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
There is one account connected to Portugal in which the client had €143 million, writes Negócios Online. This far, the investigation has not revealed the identity of this client.
The website adds that the great majority of clients with Portuguese nationality, passports or connections had up to €8 million (each) in a total of 778 bank accounts.
Over 530 of these accounts were opened between 1970 and 2006, and there were at least 200 accounts “functioning” in 2006.
But as international media has to stress, while some of these accounts were indeed “provided to international criminals, corrupt businessmen and other high-risk individuals”, HSBC technically did nothing illegal. It was simply stretching the rules to the limit.
“HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channelled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws,” the ICIJ reported.
The questionable practices showed a new side to the bank whose homepage proclaims: “Throughout our history we have been where the growth is, connecting customers to opportunities.”
By NATASHA DONN