Argentine tax agency files criminal complaint against HSBC for 4,000 undeclared Swiss accounts

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s tax agency charged HSBC bank Thursday with helping more than 4,000 Argentines evade taxes by placing their money in secret Swiss accounts.

The head of country’s AFIP tax agency, Ricardo Echegaray, said Argentine citizens evaded about $3 billion in taxes that were handled by intermediaries through a network of offshore accounts.

Echegaray alleged that some of those accounts in Geneva are owned by HSBC Argentina’s president and other bank executives. He did not say if the bank’s operations had been suspended in Argentina.

“There’s no doubt that the AFIP will keep cracking down on tax havens because our objective is to collect taxes and to avoid harming those who have less,” he said.

AFIP said it got its information from France, where HSBC was placed under formal investigation last week for possibly aiding tax evasion. The banking company has also been charged in Belgium with organized fiscal fraud.

AFIP charged the local branch of HSBC and its executives in an Argentine federal court.

HSBC said it respects Argentine laws and has committed no wrongdoing.

“HSBC Argentina emphatically rejects its participation in any illegal association, including any organization that allows capital flight aimed at evading taxes,” its statement said. “HSBC Argentina wants to clarify that it doesn’t have an account in HSBC Switzerland.”

Argentina’s government has denounced several foreign companies in its fight to curb capital flight. The left-leaning government recently accused Procter & Gamble of tax fraud and said it had suspended the operations of the household goods giant in this South American country.

Argentina has been kept from global credit markets since defaulting on its debt during its 2001-2002 financial crisis, and it suffered another default in July. Officials have been trying to keep dollars in the country for the Central Bank to use to pay off government debts, but the bank’s reserves have continued to plunge.

While currency controls make it nearly impossible to legally trade pesos for dollars, many Argentines have turned to black market money changers to obtain dollars to protect themselves from one of the world’s highest inflation rates.