SECURITY

HSBC’s private Swiss bank served everyone from alleged arms dealers to pop stars

Obsession
Borders
Obsession
Borders

An investigation into 100,000 individuals who held accounts with HSBC’s Private Bank turned up a roster of royals, arms dealers, sanctioned Russian businessmen, and on-the-lam politicians—along with music icons Tina Turner, Phil Collins, and David Bowie. The leaks of the bank’s sometimes-unsavory clientele—who collectively held more than $100 billion in assets, often structured specifically to evade taxes—forced HSBC to acknowledge that its standards “were significantly lower than they are today.”

The investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), involves 60,000 files leaked by a former HSBC employee that detail the private bank’s accounts held in Switzerland in 2006 and 2007. In part through the use of the same leaks, European and US authorities have been cracking down on banks—and HSBC in particular—that help clients stash assets overseas to evade taxes.

Only a few dozen of the account holders were made public by ICIJ. But they represent an interesting cross-section of the world’s wealthy and paint an intriguing picture of how to store offshore assets—a practice that some economists say contributes to rising global wealth inequality, by stripping local governments of tax revenue to spend on goods and services for the less-rich. Here are a few of the wealthy tribes that emerge from the leaks:

The Swiss pop stars

Some 14% of the wealthy individuals in the leaked database have Swiss passports, including many who weren’t born in Switzerland, like pop idols Phil Collins, Tina Turner and David Bowie. Swiss nationals are not subject to the same scrutiny of their accounts as citizens of the US and other EU countries. Clients “linked” to Switzerland had by far the largest amount of assets, at $31.2 billion.

Alleged arms traffickers, fraudsters, and corrupt officials:

Burundian Aziza Kulsum Gulamali, known as the “Coltan Queen” for her trade in that rare metal, has been criticized by the United Nations for providing arms to rebels during Burundi’s civil war. She was linked to accounts containing over $3 million.

Central African Republic diamond magnate Abdul-Karim Dan Azoumi is accused by the United Nations of financing the country’s rebel Seleka group that has waged civil war killing thousands. He held less than $500,000 in one account.

Rachid Mohamed Rachid, the former Egyptian trade minister, is linked to a $31 million account. He fled Cairo in 2011 but was convicted in absentia of profiteering.

Former Portsmouth FC owner Vladimir Antonov is accused of a $500 million bank fraud in Lithuania. He is linked to an account worth $65 million.

Entertainers:

Actor John Malkovich said through a representative that he knew nothing about the account in his name, and suggested that it might be related to Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, “who handled some of his finances.”

Actor Christian Slater was linked to an account named “‘Captain Kirk,’ after the Star Trek character,” which was open between 1996 and 1997.

Elle MacPherson, the Australian model, had four client accounts that led to 25 separate bank accounts holding over $12 million.

Actress and author Joan Collins was linked to two Swiss HSBC accounts that have since been closed. Her accountant said they were opened without her consent.

Industrialists and businessmen

Rajan Raheja, an Indian construction magnate, was linked to accounts that held $262 million.

Oil trader Jonathan Kolleck was linked to 19 active accounts that held $72 million.

Mexican businessman Carlos Hank Rohn was linked to HSBC accounts with nearly $180 million. He and his relatives have been investigated for alleged money laundering and links to drug cartels, but all charges have been dropped.

Housewives

More than 7,300 people in the leaked accounts are described as “housewives.” The report supplies few names of these woman, but it does describe how one Danish housewife visited the private bank in Zurich and left with the equivalent of $16,000 in cash. The ICIJ report notes the term housewife “may be used to describe a wealthy married woman, but it’s also applied in some cases to women who include industry pioneers, architects, journalists, teachers, princesses and heiresses.”

home our picks popular latest obsessions search