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HSBC pays over $40 million to settle money-laundering probe

Swiss prosecutors have closed a money-laundering probe into HSBC after the British banking giant's Geneva branch agreed to pay a massive fine. The bank says it has now mended its ways.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Geneva prosecutors office said the bank had "rapidly agreed to begin paying an amount aimed at repairing the illegal acts committed in the past" as part of a deal to close an investigation into allegations that HSBC's Geneva office had helped clients evade millions of dollars in taxes.

The sum agreed on in the deal was named by prosecutors as 40 million Swiss francs (38 million euros, $43 million).

Olivier jornot, attorney general in the Swiss canton of Geneva, said the compensation payment was the largest amount ever paid in Geneva.

Lead prosecutor Yves Bertossa said authorities had preferred to accept the deal because of the difficulty of proving acts of money laundering.

Hidden money

Geneva authorities in February

launched a probe against HSBC Private Bank Suisse

after media reports alleging that it had hidden millions of dollars to assist wealthy clients to dodge paying taxes.

Bank files, including a list of thousands of suspected tax evaders, were leaked to French authorities in 2008 by an ex-employee.

France also launched an investigation into the bank.

HSBC said in a statement that it welcomed the agreement, noting that "the investigation found that neither the bank nor its employees are suspected of any current criminal offenses" and that it would not face any criminal charges.

It also insisted that it had "implemented numerous initiatives designed to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money" in a "radical transformation."

Bertossa confirmed that no current employee at the HSBC Geneva office would face prosecution, but he did not rule out the possibility that former staff might face investigation in the future.

tj/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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