Swiss refused request for help to pursue HSBC prosecutions

Revenue sought assistance to bring some of those named in leaked bank files before Irish courts

Switzerland refused a request for assistance to help bring prosecutions here on the basis of the leaked HSBC Geneva banking files, according to the Irish Revenue Commissioners.

Revenue chairman Niall Cody has also told the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts that 13 people are the subject of ongoing investigations arising from the Swiss data, with the amount in their accounts involving a maximum of $14.83 million.

Mr Cody, in a letter to the committee seen by The Irish Times, said the Revenue successfully sought the HSBC files from the French authorities in 2010, having read about their existence in the media. The total deposits associated with Ireland were greater than $6 billion, the files indicated.

The files were stolen from HSBC Geneva by a former employee, Hervé Falciani, and eventually came into the possession of Le Monde. More recently, reports based on the data have been published by The Irish Times and other media partners of the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The bulk of the deposits associated with an Irish address (98 per cent) were linked with the global funds industry, a sector in which Ireland plays a significant role.

There were 114 individual clients named in the files received from the French, of whom 88 had an Irish address. There were 270 corporate clients. The 88 individual clients with an Irish address may have had total deposits in the mid-2000s of $44.8 million.

The Revenue initiated 33 investigations on the basis of the HSBC data, of which six are ongoing, Mr Cody said. A small number of cases are still being considered for investigation.

Four cases were selected, out of a 20, with a view to a prosecution. Mr Cody said the data received from the French authorities was regarded as a lawful disclosure and legal advice said it could be used for a prosecution. However, the advice highlighted the challenge in relying solely on the information.

A formal mutual legal assistance request was made to the Swiss on September 21st, 2012, but was refused on November 2nd, 2012. Mr Cody said the Swiss have objected to the use of the HSBC data on the basis that it was initially stolen. (The French authorities seized it from a house in France belonging to Mr Falciani’s father.)

Three prosecutions have been secured, and one is being pursued. Nineteen settlements have been made to date, for a total of €4.5 million. A further 13 individuals, involving a possible total of $14.83 million, are the subject of ongoing investigations (six) or yet-to-be-started investigations (four), Mr Cody said.

In relation to 37 corporates not excluded from investigation upon initial examination, one case had been settled, three are ongoing, two are connected to individuals already being investigated, and 31 were excluded for various reasons, such as being associated with the funds industry.

The Revenue found that five of the individuals identified in the data had taken up earlier incentives run by the Revenue in relation to offshore assets and other tax evasion schemes. None of the people investigated produced an amnesty certificate to forestall an investigation, Mr Cody said.

The Offshore Assets Group, a branch of the Revenue’s Investigation and Prosecution Division, worked on the data. The investigation involved 12 employees of various grades, headed by an experienced principal officer.

Earlier this year this newspaper reported that the Revenue had decided, based on legal advice, that it would not seek to prosecute HSBC Geneva for aiding and abetting tax evasion. A number of other jurisdictions are pursuing such a course.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent