Friday, February 13, 2015

Bank Corruption

The Swiss branch of HSBC bank cost Tanzania, Senegal and the Ivory Coast over 30% of their national health budgets, EurActiv France reports. 

Between 2006 and 2007, 100,000 clients and 20,000 offshore companies secretly channeled over €180 billion through HSBC accounts. This extensive fraud, actively encouraged by the bank, had a devastating effect on the budgets of developing countries, particularly in Africa.

According to information collected by the NGO One, the losses incurred by Ivory Coast correspond to 0.58% of the country's gross national product (GNP), or €169 million. This loss of capital is equivalent to 39% of the national health budget, or 14% of the education budget. In Senegal, the Swiss Leaks documents revealed a loss of 0.90% of GNP, equal to 38% of the health budget or 18% of the education budget. Tanzania's loss of 0.48% of GNP would cover 17% of health, and 10% of education spending.

Despite being legally obliged since 1998 to make special checks on high-risk customers, the bank provided accounts for clients implicated in six notorious scandals in Africa, including Kenya’s biggest corruption case, blood diamond trading and several corrupt military sales.

One of the cases detailed in the leaked Swiss files involves Kenyan businessmen Deepak Kamani and Anura Perera, whose accounts were kept open by HSBC despite them being named in a highly publicised anti-corruption report in 2006. Investigator John Githongo, who later fled Kenya after ministers failed to support him, alleged the two men were the beneficiaries of contracts signed off by Kenyan politicians. The HSBC files detail payments to their offshore entities, called First Mercantile Securities Corporation, Midland Finance & Securities Ltd, and Infotalent Ltd. Notes on Perera’s HSBC records discuss a quarterly payment of “1mio” from the Kenyan government into his account, apparently delayed because of a shortage of state funds. Separately, Kamani’s notes show the bank kept his account open despite the allegations: “We spent some time discussing the ‘compliance’ issue facing this account. The clients again reiterated that there was no substance to the press reports that have been appearing in the press over the past nine months. They mentioned that only UBS and HSBC had raised the compliance issue in any meaningful way. “UBS have now closed the accounts for the client and the clients seemed pretty upset with this development. We explained to the clients that while we had discussed with compliance the issue, we continue to operate the account as has been normal over the past three years.” Swiss and Kenyan investigators are still probing the deals.

In another African corruption case, HSBC handled £20m in accounts controlled by Jeffrey Tesler, a small-scale London lawyer. Tesler, who was eventually jailed in the US, was fronting for the then president of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, and other local politicians in a corrupt gas plant deal. Tesler’s HSBC account for Tristar Investments Ltd had an obscure address in the Seychelles. He was publicly named as a bribery suspect in 2004. But in 2007, HSBC was still operating Tristar and Tesler family accounts.

The files show the bank provided services to a circle of African diamond traders who broke the law. They included Emmanuel Shallop, jailed for six years by an Antwerp court for importing illicit Angolan conflict diamonds in 2001-02. Shallop, also alleged to have dealt with Sierra Leone rebels, hid almost £2m in an HSBC account. Shallop had been named in connection with illicit diamond trading activities as early as 2001, in a UN report on conflict diamonds discussing his receiving payments “through a bank in Geneva”. When he visited Geneva to switch cash into a Dubai-registered entity in 2005, HSBC openly noted: “The customer is currently being very careful, because he is under pressure from the Belgian fiscal authorities investigating his activities in the field of diamond tax evasion.” HSBC also provided general accounts for directors of Omega Diamonds, a Belgian firm named in the same 2001 UN report. Two directors’ accounts contained at least £860,000 and £1.75m respectively. A third Omega shareholder was linked to general accounts with values totalling £47m. The company paid $195m (£126m) to Belgian tax authorities in March 2013 after being found to have shifted profits from the import of mis-valued diamonds from Congolese mines and Angola into Dubai.

Fana Hlongwane – close to South Africa’s ANC government – was named in 2008 by the Serious Fraud Office as a confidential BAE agent. The SFO said in published statements sent to South African prosecutors that Hlongwane received BAE money through disguised offshore intermediaries to promote arms deals. The South African government decided not to pursue the case. HSBC is now revealed to have operated Swiss accounts for Hlongwane as an agent for three other US multinational companies. They contained more than $10m in 2006.

In a separate arms case an Italian businessman of Syrian origin, Fouzi Hadj, was accused in 2003 by the UN and Human Rights Watch of gun-running for Liberian rebels. His Guinean company, Katex Mines, had an HSBC account in which assets of more than $7m were hidden. The account was not blocked until May 2005 and closed in 2006. Fouzi was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to six years in Italy for a separate fraud. 

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