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Prosecutors Raid HSBC's Geneva Office Over Suspected Money Laundering

Geneva Attorney General Olivier Jornot, center, leaves HSBC offices during a search of the private bank Wednesday. Swiss prosecutors have started searching offices of the Geneva subsidiary of HSBC bank in an inquiry relating to alleged money-laundering.

Prosecutors in Geneva conducted a search of HSBC bank's Swiss headquarters Wednesday, looking for signs of what they termed "aggravated money laundering." The bank, recently accused of helping wealthy clients hide money from tax collectors, says it is cooperating.

Part of a criminal probe, the raid comes a week after leaked documents showed that HSBC's Swiss unit had helped international clients launder profits and shelter their holdings from their home countries.

From Swiss news site The Local:

"The cache of files, made public in the so-called SwissLeaks case, claimed HSBC's Swiss private banking arm helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (104 billion euros)."

Those documents reportedly came from a former employee, providing rare details about the famously confidential Swiss banking system. Most of the records dated from between 1998 and 2007. Last week, the bank issued an apology over the claims.

As Krishnadev wrote for the Two-Way last Monday:

"Among the main findings: The clients of HSBC Private Bank's Swiss unit included arms traffickers and those trading in blood diamonds; current and former politicians from Britain, Russia, Ukraine and India held accounts at the bank; the bank assured clients it would not disclose details of accounts to national authorities; and discussed measures to avoid paying taxes in their home countries."

Franco Morra, who became the chief executive of HSBC's Swiss bank in 2012, said that behavior like that described in the documents are "historical business practices."

Morra said last week that the bank has since "comprehensively overhauled the business, including closing the accounts of clients who didn't meet our high standards and ensuring we have strong compliance controls in place."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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