Amid allegations they may have helped shield customers’ international transfers from tax authorities, the Spanish authorities are investigating some Banco Santander SA and BNP Paribas SA employees, reported Bloomberg citing a person familiar with the probe.
By analyzing evidence including papers they took from the lenders’ offices earlier this month, the investigators are trying to work out who within the banks may have been responsible for the alleged transactions.
Whether clients of HSBC Holdings Plc were helped in evading taxes on funds transferred to Spain from HSBC’s Swiss unit by Santander and BNP Paribas is being probed into according to the report. Bloomberg quoted the source as saying that the investigators plan to recommend charges of money laundering and request jail terms for the individuals involved, and a fine for the banks once they have identified the suspects and if the evidence backs up their current suspicions. Money laundering carries a sentence of as much as six years in prison under the current legislation.
A June 3 statement in which Santander said it is cooperating with the authorities was referred to by a Santander spokeswoman. Frederic Lemonde, a spokesman at BNP Paribas in Paris, declined to comment. The bank has not been contacted by the Spanish authorities in relation to any investigation, said Paulina Sanchez, a press officer at HSBC in Madrid.
Santander said in a June 3 statement that following a request, the bank provided information about certain inter-bank transaction to the authorities.
The report said that no final decision has been made on whether to bring a formal proceeding against the banks or their employees since investigators are still assessing documentation obtained from the lenders. The judge can also choose to disregard the investigators’ recommendation.
Leaked data that appeared to show that the London-based bank helped customers evade taxes and launder money was leaked by former HSBC employee Herve Falciani which triggered the probe. Following this investigations around the globe were initiated. According to the source, by helping the authorities to process the leaked data, Falciani co-operated with the Spanish authorities during the first phase of the investigation in 2013.
Once their initial inquiries, aided by Falciani, were completed in late 2013, the investigators filed a complaint against Santander and BNP Paribas. The National Court Judge Jose de la Mata in Madrid is overseeing the probe since then.
The second phase which focuses on a series of alleged transactions that Santander and BNP Paribas may have helped execute between 2005 and 2008 is now being completed by the authorities, the source said. In the next few months, investigators expect to hand their findings over to the court. Whether to issue indictments against any individuals involved would then be up to the judge.
Alongside another National Court investigation into more than 40 HSBC clients who may have benefited from the transfers between Switzerland and Spain, the probe into the decision-making process at Santander and BNP Paribas is going on. The source said that the people being investigated have been informed that they are under suspicion.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)