HSBC Swiss unit to pay $329M in Belgian tax settlement

HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss private banking unit agreed to pay about 294 million euros ($329 million) to settle a Belgian criminal probe into allegations it helped wealthy clients dodge hundreds of millions of euros in taxes.

The preliminary agreement in Belgium’s largest criminal settlement still needs to be approved by a judge at a hearing that should take place in September, Willemien Baert, a spokeswoman at the Brussels prosecutors’ office, said by phone. HSBC declined to comment on the proposed settlement.

Authorities in Belgium and France began scrutinizing HSBC’s Swiss private bank after Herve Falciani, a former information technology worker at the firm, stole client account details from the Geneva office in 2008 and shared them with investigators. The French case culminated with HSBC agreeing to settle for 300 million euros.

HSBC building
Bank of China Tower, from left, Cheung Kong Center, Bank of China Building, HSBC Holdings Plc headquarters, Standard Chartered Bank building and Prince's Building stand illuminated in the Central district of Hong Kong. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg

In Belgium, the Swiss private banking unit was charged in 2014 over money-laundering allegations by investigative judge Michel Claise. Brussels prosecutors said at the time they suspected HSBC of selling offshore companies in Panama and the Virgin Islands to certain clients, aiming to avoid taxes.

Prosecutors said in a statement that they opted for a settlement to gain time after noting HSBC’s efforts to improve compliance and stop offering certain banking services as well as the lender’s willingness to pay 400,000 euros upfront.

Belgian newspaper L’Echo reported earlier Tuesday that bank had agreed on a settlement of some 300 million euros.

— With assistance from Marion Dakers