HSBC's Swiss private bank offices in Geneva searched

Offices of HSBC Holdings Plc's Swiss private bank in Geneva were today searched by authorities as part of a probe into money laundering, Bloomberg reported.

The bank has come under scrutiny around the world after the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released details on 8 February of how the bank's Swiss unit handled accounts for tax evaders and criminals. It was based on a list of HSBC clients stolen by a former information-technology employee in 2008 prompted investigations in countries, including the US, Argentina, France and Greece.

According to the Geneva prosecutor, it was acting following recent ''public disclosures.''

Though a number of names had emerged before, the report last week was drawn from more comprehensive list of accounts associated with over 100,000 people and legal entities from more than 200 nations.
 
Chief executive Stuart Gulliver offered ''sincerest apologies'', in a full-page advertisement published in several UK newspapers over the weekend. He wrote that the Swiss private bank had been ''completely overhauled'' since 2008 and 106 of 140 clients mentioned in files cited by ICIJ and other media were no longer with HSBC.
 
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Europe's largest lender was in regulators' sights after details about how its Swiss private bank allegedly helped wealthy clients evade taxes were leaked to the media and published last week.

According to the Geneva prosecutor, he had launched an investigation following the allegations and could extend it to individuals.
 
"A search is currently under way in the premises of the bank, led by Attorney General Olivier Jornot and the prosecutor Yves Bertossa," Geneva's prosecutor said in a statement.

"We have cooperated continuously with the Swiss authorities since first becoming aware of the data theft in 2008 and we continue to cooperate," HSBC said in a statement.

According to commentators, the bank's main concern might be that US authorities consider re-opening a 2012 deferred prosecution agreement with the bank, which came after a $1.9 billion fine on the bank over allegedly helping people move hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit drug money through the US financial system.