Swiss prosecutors close HSBC case, bank to pay more than $40 million
Swiss prosecutors on Thursday closed an investigation into allegations British banking giant HSBC's Geneva branch helped clients evade millions of dollars in taxes, after the bank agreed to pay tens of millions in compensation.
"We ended the procedure following a deal with the bank, which will pay 40 million Swiss francs ($43 million, 38 million euros)," Olivier Jornot, attorney general in the Swiss canton of Geneva, told reporters.
In a statement, the Geneva prosecutor's office said the bank had "rapidly agreed to begin paying an amount aimed at repairing the illegal acts committed in the past."
Geneva authorities opened the probe in February as the so-called Swissleaks scandal exploded following the publication of secret documents claiming the bank assisted many wealthy clients in thwarting the taxman.
The agreed 40-million-franc compensation would mark the largest amount ever paid in Geneva, Jornot said.
Geneva lead prosecutor Yves Bertossa meanwhile explained that "it is difficult to prove acts of money laundering. That is why we preferred to go with a negotiated solution."
HSBC hailed the agreement, saying "the investigation found that neither the bank nor its employees are suspected of any current criminal offences."
"The bank has fully cooperated with the investigation throughout and will not face criminal charges," it said in a statement.
The bank insisted that it had in recent years "undergone a radical transformation," and had "implemented numerous initiatives designed to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money."
Bertossa said no current employees at the HSBC Geneva offices would face prosecution, but did not rule out future probes of former employees.
The SwissLeaks affair erupted in February following investigations by international newspapers -- led by Le Monde of France -- using stolen documents supplied by former HSBC IT employee Herve Falciani.
That data indicated the bank helped over 120,000 clients to hide 180.6 billion euros from tax authorities.
Those revelations came among growing evidence that pledges by banks to halt illicit or irresponsible activities that led up to the 2008 financial crisis have not been fulfilled.
In February the British bank acknowledged that "we sometimes failed to live up to the standards the societies we serve rightly expected from us."
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