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Argentine kicks out HSBC head

September 2, 2015

Argentina's central bank is cracking down on the banking giant HSBC amid a multi-billion-dollar tax evasion scandal. It has demanded that the British lender's local unit president be replaced within 24 hours.

An HSBC office building
Image: Reuters

In addition to charges of aiding tax evaders, the central bank in Buenos Aires also accused HSBC Argentina president Gabriel Martino of not doing enough to "mitigate and adequately address the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities."

The financial overseer said that because HSBC had not established the necessary controls under Martino, it would give the bank one day to replace him.

In November 2014, Argentina charged HSBC with helping more than 4,000 clients evade taxes by stashing their money in secret Swiss bank accounts. In March this year, Buenos Aires said HSBC should repatriate the $3.5 billion (3.1 billion euros) that had been moved offshore.

HSBC has repeatedly rejected the charges. In a statement on Tuesday, it said it would continue to "cooperate with the justice system and regulators."

SwissLeaks - the HSBC money laundering machine

The head of Argentina's tax agency, Ricardo Echegaray, called the central bank's move "positive" and urged HSBC's clients involved in tax evasion to accept criminal liability and pay the taxes they owed.

"They will have to recognize that together with Martino, and the HSBC authorities here in Argentina, they looked to cheat Argentina, to move funds abroad that they had never declared and on which they had never paid taxes," Echegaray told a news conference.

Argentina's central bank has the authority to revoke the licenses of officials who legally represent commercial banks before the financial regulator.

HSBC, Europe's largest bank, faces probes in several countries concerning allegations it helped clients dodge taxes. In 2012, it paid a record $1.9 billion fine after US authorities found evidence HSBC that had become a preferred financial institution for drug traffickers and money launderers between 2006 and 2010.

uhe/cjc (Reuters, dpa)