Argentina's tax investigation agency has charged the British bank HSBC with helping thousands of Argentines to commit tax evasion. The charges were said to be related to bank accounts in Switzerland.
The Argentine inland revenue service AFIP said on Thursday that it had charged HSBC with helping more than 4,000 Argentines evade some $3 billion (2.4 billion euros) in taxes.
The money was said to have been handled by intermediaries using offshore accounts, including accounts in Switzerland that were linked to HSBC Argentina.
"We have filed a charge for tax evasion and illicit association relating to bank accounts in Switzerland," said AFIP director Ricardo Echegaray.
Echegaray alleged that some accounts in Geneva are owned by HSBC Argentina's president, as well as other bank executives. He gave no details about whether the bank's operations had been suspended in Argentina.
"There's no doubt that the AFIP will keep cracking down on tax havens because our objective is to collect taxes and to avoid harming those who have less," said Echegaray.
Bank's troubles in Europe
AFIP said that it had received information from France, where the bank was last week placed under formal investigation for suspected aiding of tax evasion. HSBC has also been charged with fiscal fraud in Belgium.
The Argentine branch of HSBC along with some of its executives have now been charged in an Argentine federal court.
The bank's directors in Buenos Airies denied any wrongdoing. "HSBC Argentina emphatically rejects its participation in any illegal association, including any organization that allows capital flight aimed at evading taxes," the bank said in a statement.
Argentina's left-leaning government has recently denounced several foreign firms over alleged tax irregularities, including the household goods giant Proctor & Gamble which was accused of tax fraud and which had its activities in the country suspended.
Argentine officials have been particularly eager to keep capital in the country for the central bank to pay off government debts. The country has been barred from global credit markets since it defaulted on its debt in the 2001-2002 financial crisis and suffered a further default in July this year.
rc/jm (AP, AFP)