By Indika Sakalasooriya Acache of leaked Swiss bank files analysed by a network of investigative reporters contained information linked to 92 Sri Lankan clients holding 129 accounts with a total value to the tune of approximately US $ 58.3 million (approx. Rs.7.7 billion).
According to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the maximum amount of money associated with a client linked to Sri Lanka was US $ 10.7 million (approx. Rs.1.4 billion) and the country is placed at 112th among the countries with the largest dollar amounts in the leaked Swiss files.
Over 100,000 secret files belonging to HSBC’s Swiss banking arm were leaked in 2007 and were analysed by ICIJ, which enlisted more than 140 journalists from 45 countries in cooperation with France’s Le Monde, Britain’s BBC and The Guardian, US programme 60 Minutes, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and more than 45 other media organisations.An ICIJ analysis covering the 1988-2006 period showed the activity levels of accounts linked to Sri Lanka gradually picking up till 1998 and then falling sharply. But in 2006 the activity levels again spiked.
ICIJ also said 88 bank accounts out of the total 129 were opened between 1974 and 2006. It also said about 18 percent of the 92 clients linked to Sri Lanka held Sri Lankan passport or nationality.Investments by Sri Lankan individuals and companies in Swiss accounts totalled more than 85 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 2011 while the liabilities listed against Sri Lanka were 44 million in the same year, Swiss National Bank (SNB) official data previously had revealed.
Though the names of the Sri Lankan account holders were not disclosed, ICIJ had come up with a global list of 61 profiles that included politicians, businessmen, super models and top sportsmen. However, ICIJ insisted that offshore accounts were not illegal, though some individuals had taken advantage of the discreet manner the Swiss banks operate to hold undeclared assets and dodge taxes.“HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channelled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws,” ICIJ reported.
HSBC in a response acknowledged and admitted the accountability for past compliance and control failures but stressed it had taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.HSBC’s Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70 percent since 2007.The bank also welcomed the major regulatory reforms currently underway in numerous jurisdictions to ensure that an individual wishing to hide assets from tax authorities will be unable to do so.