Swiss launch HSBC probe

Authorities searched the offices of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss private bank in Geneva yesterday as part of a money laundering probe. 

Swiss launch HSBC probe

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa left about 10.45am after over an hour in the bank’s office on Quai des Bergues, the main office for HSBC’s global private banking division.

He declined to comment beyond confirming the search and drove off with a half dozen other officials.

HSBC has come under scrutiny around the world since the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released details on February 8 of how the bank’s Swiss unit handled accounts for tax evaders and criminals.

It was based on a list of HSBC clients stolen by a former information- technology employee in 2008 that sparked tax investigations in countries including the US, Argentina, France and Greece. The Geneva prosecutor announced its investigation this morning, saying it was acting after recent “public disclosures”.

While some names had emerged before, the report last week drew from a more comprehensive list of accounts associated with more than 100,000 people and legal entities from more than 200 nations.

“We have co-operated continuously with the Swiss authorities since first becoming aware of the data theft in 2008 and we continue to co-operate,” London-based HSBC said in an emailed statement yesterday. Patrick Humphris, a spokesman for HSBC’s private bank, declined to comment further.

In a full-page advertisement published in several British newspaper over the weekend, chief executive Stuart Gulliver offered “sincerest apologies”. He wrote that the Swiss private bank had been “completely overhauled” since 2008 and 106 of 140 clients mentioned in files cited by the journalists’ group and other media are no longer with HSBC.

While Switzerland opened an investigation into Herve Falciani, a self-described whistleblower who stole client-account details from the bank’s Geneva office and turned them over to the French government, no criminal inquiry into money laundering had been disclosed before yesterday.

HSBC account holders included drug cartels, arms dealers and fugitive diamond merchants, according to the journalists’ group.

Falciani is considered a fugitive in Switzerland, where he is under investigation for offering stolen data to foreign authorities and Lebanese banks.

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