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HSBC spills details on 400 Indian accounts in Singapore; half are from Mumbai

Mumbai,Shrimi Choudhary: After the leak of two major secret documents from HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm that revealed names of roughly 2,000 Indian account holders, the global bank itself has done it now. For the first time ever, HSBC Singapore shared a new list of 1,200 individuals all across the globe of which one-third are Indians.


Top government sources told dna that of these 1,200 accounts, 400 are held by Indians, whose entire details have been shared with the government. These are all new names who are having deposits above Rs 5 crore.

Unlike the sketchy details given in earlier leaks of bank accounts of over a thousand Indians in the HSBC’s Geneva branch, the fresh list has spilled much more information – including data such as incorporation documents, names and addresses of beneficial owners and nominees and in many cases, correspondence and email IDs.

The probe is currently on to ascertain how much of this wealth of 400 Indians revealed by the bank are unaccounted.

According to highly placed sources, the income-tax department has already swung into action and frozen the Indian assets of all suspected account holders in a bid to prevent siphoning of wealth to other countries or tax havens, before the investigation comes to a logical conclusion.

“The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has begun examining the information received to verify the suspected tax avoidance,” a source who is aware about the development told dna.

“Around 200 individuals in the list are from Mumbai alone, and 20% of them are non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the new list. The quantum of these accounts will be known by first week of September,” said the source.

In the biggest global expose of its kind, an international group of investigative journalists had came out with the second HSBC list in February. It featured names of 1,668 Indians while the number of actionable cases stood at 1,195 after taking into account duplication and other factors. Collectively, these accounts had a balance of Rs 25,420 crore till 2007.

Post second black money list, the taxman had conducted a ‘survey’ operation in mid- February at the Mumbai head office of HSBC Bank in connection with the black money probe against it and certain Indians who held accounts in its Geneva branch.

According to the experts, leaked files published earlier this year sparked allegations that HSBC’s private bank may have enabled clients to conceal millions of dollars of assets and dragged Europe’s largest lender into the sights of regulators including Geneva’s public prosecutor.

Following four months of inquiries, Geneva authorities said they had closed their investigation after HSBC agreed to pay 40 million francs for wrongdoing, the largest such figure imposed by local prosecutors.

“HSBC for several years suffered organisational deficiencies in the fight against money laundering. It now seems to be in the damage control mode,” said a bank expert.

When contacted, HSBC officials declined to comment on the development.

Sources told dna that the government is also anticipating exchange of information from HSBC Hong Kong very soon.

“If the investigators established the unaccounted overseas wealth in these new accounts, they will be liable for harsh action.With the new law, even the NRI status won’t help,” said a former senior I-T official on the condition of anonymity.

This is expected to significantly widen the scale and scope of the ongoing probe by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court on black money.

dna has learnt that tax authorities in Australia, UK and the US must have also received identical data and they had decided they would share intelligence and documents which hint at suspected tax avoidance with other countries, according to their jurisdiction.

Some time ago, Indian authorities had made a formal request seeking the official data.

Recently, finance minister Arun Jaitley while elaborating on steps taken for exchange of information on retrieving black money, said his proposal for automatic exchange of information between India and Switzerland had elicited an ‘affirmative’ response from his Swiss counterpart. This will enable the forging of global cooperation on the issue and render the ‘secrecy’ regime redundant.