Sultanah Kalsom, the wife of the Sultan of Pahang, has appeared on the controversial leaked list of Malaysians with accounts at HSBC’s Swiss bank, according to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The report, also referred to as Swiss Leaks, ranks Malaysia 87th among the countries with the largest dollar amounts in the leaked files on HSBC clients. The maximum amount associated with a client connected to Malaysia was US$67.7 million (RM242 million).
The Swiss Leaks, which has caused furore due to subsequent allegations against HSBC of abetting concealment and tax evasion, details 77 client accounts opened by Malaysians between 1982 and 2006 and linked to 201 bank accounts worth approximately US$174 million.
The top 10 countries (according to value) in the Swiss Leaks of HSBC accounts are Switzerland (US$31.2 billion), United Kingdom (US$21.7 billion), Venezuela (US$14.8 billion), USA (US$13.4 billion), France (US$12.5 billion), Israel (US$10 billion), Italy (US$7.5 billion), Bahamas (US$7 billion), Brazil (US$7 billion) and Belgium (US$6.3 billion).
The 63-year-old Sultanah, listed by HSBC as a “housewife”, is linked to a numbered client account tagged “3678TE” from September 1994 to 1997. The leaked files did not reveal specifically the exact role she played with regards to the account or how much money was in it.
The other Malaysians in the HSBC Swiss Leaks have not been named. Sultanah Kalsom has not responded to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment.
The ICIJ report also said that the “housewife” category accounts for more than the 7,300 clients listed by profession in HSBC’s files. The category outnumbered two other categories – “without profession” and “student” – adding up to fewer than 4,000 accounts.
The report also stated that it “ does not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Swiss Leaks interactive application have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”
The Swiss Leaks expose was initiated by Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee who became a whistleblower by revealing HSBC clients’ confidential data to the French government in 2008, prompting an investigation by the tax authorities.
The tax authority data was subsequently obtained by French newspaper Le Monde, who then shared it with ICIJ. The data covers accounts of more than 100,000 clients (individuals and legal entities) from more than 200 countries.
The Swiss Leaks data covers three types of internal bank files from different time periods.
One reflects clients and their associated private accounts at the Swiss branch of HSBC mostly from 1988 to 2007. Another is a snapshot of the maximum amounts in the client accounts during 2006 and 2007. The third is of notes on clients and conversations with them made by HSBC employees during 2005.
The leaked HSBC files revealed a total of more than US$100 billion in the accounts, and include prominent and controversial figures such as US$12.6 billion held in the name of the Venezuelan government under the late former leader Hugh Chávez. The files also provided confidential information such as secretive offshore companies linked to some of the accounts.
After being dogged by allegations that its Swiss bank helped hundreds of clients in tax evasion practices, HSBC recently apologised to its customers and investors, admitting to certain failings in compliance and control.
It has also sparked a massive political debate in Britain, with many accusing HSBC of unsavoury banking practices. The Bank of England may also look into the allegations of tax evasion.
The scandal has recently claimed a high-profile victim. Former HSBC boss Stephen Green recently quit financial services lobby group TheCityUK’s advisory, presumably due to mounting pressure attributed to his links with the scandal. Green was HSBC’s chairman between 2006-2010 and subsequently appointed as the UK trade minister from 2011-2013.
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