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HSBC’s Geneva office searched

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Swiss prosecutors searched HSBC bank’s Geneva branch as part of an inquiry into alleged money-laundering, media reports said. The raid came more than a week after allegations that HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) may have helped wealthy clients, including Indians, evade tax.

“A search is currently underway in the premises of the bank, led by Attorney General Olivier Jornot and the prosecutor Yves Bertossa,” The Independent quoted Geneva’s prosecutor as saying in a statement.

The investigation could be extended to “people suspected of committing or participating in money laundering”, it added.

Franco Morra, the bank’s chief executive, said last week it had shut down accounts of clients who “did not meet our high standards”, according to BBC.

The bank faces criminal investigations in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina, but not in Britain, where HSBC is based.

The probe stemmed from “the recent published revelations” about the private bank, referring a report that it turned a blind eye to illegal activities of arms dealers and blood diamond traders while helping rich people avoid taxes.

The alleged money-laundering was reported after Herve Falciani, who worked with HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) as a computer analyst, leaked details about clients involved in the alleged tax avoidance.

India obtained from France a list of 628 Indians who held accounts in HSBC’s Geneva branch. The list was submitted to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed for the recovery of black money by the Supreme Court.

According to a SIT report submitted to the apex court last December, no balance was found in 289 accounts. “Out of the 628 persons, 201 are either non-residents or non-traceable, leaving 427 cases as actionable,” the report said.

“An amount of Rs.2,926 crore has been brought to tax towards the undisclosed balances in the accounts (79),” it added.

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