British tax authorities are investigating a list of more than 4,000 British residents who have bank accounts with HSBC Holdings, the country's biggest lender, in the offshore tax haven of Jersey.
"We have received the data and we are studying it," said Jan Marszewski, from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. "Clamping down on those who try to cheat the system through evading taxes and over claiming benefits is a top priority for us."
The list, leaked by a whistle-blower, includes a man who was jailed for two years after more than 300 guns were found in his house and the owner of a farm where police discovered cannabis valued at £500,000 (HK$6.19 million) according to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported the document.
Chief executive Stuart Gulliver's attempts to cut costs at the bank are being hobbled by probes into money laundering and compensation claims from British clients. The lender said this week it is likely to face criminal charges from US anti-money-laundering probes and warned the cost of a settlement may "significantly" exceed the US$1.5 billion the bank has set aside.
"Reputationally, obviously it's damaging and it doesn't help their relationship with their regulator either," Cenkos Securities analyst Sandy Chen said.
HSBC said yesterday it was "investigating the reports of an alleged loss of certain client data in Jersey as a matter of urgency". "We haven't been notified of any investigation in … this matter by HMRC or any other authority but, should we receive notification, we will co-operate fully with the authorities."
HSBC's Swiss private bank is one of 11 financial firms there being investigated by the US Department of Justice for allegedly helping American clients evade taxes. HSBC said in May that penalties to settle the tax-evasion probe could be "significant".
The Swiss unit had suffered "reputational and financial damage" since Herve Falciani, a former software technician in Geneva, stole details on 24,000 accounts, Gulliver said in May. The French government has used the data to search for tax dodgers and shared the details with Italian, Spanish and British prosecutors.
A US Senate committee said in July that failures in HSBC's money-laundering controls allowed terrorists and drug cartels access to the US financial system.