Spanish court to question former HSBC executives in tax probe

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court is to question seven former executives from HSBC’s Swiss private bank as part of an investigation into alleged money laundering and tax fraud triggered by tax information leaks from former employee Herve Falciani.

Former HSBC employee Herve Falciani pauses during a news conference in Divonne-les-Bains, France October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The court said in a ruling, published on Thursday, it had decided to widen the investigation to study the flow of funds from HSBC’s Swiss private bank to Spain’s Banco Santander and France’s BNP Paribas.

“These entities have collaborated to repatriate funds deposited in HSBC’s Swiss private bank with the aim of concealing them from Spanish tax authorities,” the court said in a separate statement also published on Thursday.

HSBC, which reported first-quarter results on Thursday, declined to comment.

The Spanish investigation is one of many by national tax authorities as a result of the leak in 2008 of client data belonging to HSBC’s private bank by Falciani, a former IT employee at the bank. France, Austria, Belgium and Argentina have launched their own investigations.

Falciani, a French citizen, has said he is a whistleblower trying to help governments track down citizens who used Swiss accounts to evade tax. In 2015, a Swiss court sentenced him, in his absence, to five years in prison for aggravated industrial espionage.

On Wednesday, the Spanish court ruled that seven current and former Santander bankers and three former bankers from BNP’s Spanish unit would be questioned, with hearings set for June. Santander said it had actively cooperated with the court, while BNP declined to comment.

HSBC’s Swiss private bank channeled almost 74 million euros ($81 million) through Santander between 2005 and 2008 to pay clients at other banks, Wednesday’s court ruling said.

The High Court said on Thursday the seven former HSBC executives would be summoned as suspects under investigation for possible crimes of money laundering and organized crime.

Under the Spanish legal system, people can be named as formal suspects until a more detailed investigation is carried out.

Reporting By Jesús Aguado and Angus Berwick; Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Jane Merriman