Belgium may use arrest warrants against HSBC directors

Prosecutors may step up part in global inquiry if request for information fails to yield results

Belgian prosecutors said they may step up their part of a global investigation if their request for HSBC to volunteer information fails to yield results. Photograph: Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Belgian prosecutors said they may step up their part of a global investigation if their request for HSBC to volunteer information fails to yield results. Photograph: Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

 

HSBC managers and former staff risk an international arrest warrant as Belgium escalated an inquiry amid revelations showing how a Swiss unit may have helped rich clients dodge taxes.

Belgian prosecutors said they may step up their part of a global investigation if their request for HSBC to volunteer information fails to yield results. The bank’s Swiss private-banking unit was charged in Belgium in November.

“In case no effective collaboration is possible, the investigating judge is considering placing the former directors of the bank, and potentially current ones, under an international arrest warrant,” prosecutors said yesterday.

The Swiss unit came under renewed fire after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported the bank made significant profits for years handling secret accounts whose holders included drug cartels, arms dealers, tax evaders and fugitive diamond merchants.

Lender

HSBC is among a handful of banks facing criminal prosecution in recent years for its role in a Swiss banking system that allowed depositors to conceal identities, and in many cases dodge taxes or launder ill-gotten cash.

Belgian prosecutors also said the Swiss authorities haven’t responded to an information request issued two months ago by Michel Claise, the Belgian judge in charge of conducting the tax inquiry.

Argentina and France have also opened criminal inquiries into alleged aiding of tax evasion by the Swiss bank.

Electronic files

The list includes 329 Danes who had 4.8 billion kroner (€645 million) in Swiss accounts, said newspaper Politiken, which had access to the data. Although the list was shared by French authorities with other countries, including Ireland, Denmark had not asked for a copy.

The Danish tax ministry confirmed an agency reporting to it was responsible for requesting such documents and that it had not done so at the time.

“The Danish Central Customs and Tax Administration will as quickly as possible ask for the relevant information,” the ministry said.

Politiken quoted academics as saying the statute of limitations for tax evasion was 10 years, which may make some cases too old to prosecute. (Reuters, Bloomberg)