In her first public comments since Sunday's publication of leaked data related to secretive Swiss bank accounts operated by London-based HSBC and held by some of the world's wealthiest individuals, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said on Tuesday that the Department of Justice should "come down hard" on the multinational bank if it helped any of its U.S. clients engage in illegal tax-dodging or other fraudulent behavior associated with the scandal.
"The government comes down hard on individuals who break the law time after time, and it should do the same for large financial institutions," Warren told the Guardian newspaper in a statement. Approximately 2,900 individuals with U.S. ties have been associated with accounts controlled by HSBC's Swiss division at the center of the controversy.
Referencing a previous DOJ investigation into the bank in 2012, which resulted in a fines against HSBC but no criminal prosecutions, Warren continued, "The new allegations that HSBC colluded to help wealthy people and rich corporations hide money and avoid taxes are very serious, and, if true, the Department of Justice should reconsider the earlier deferred prosecution agreement it entered into with HSBC and prosecute the new violations to the full extent of the law."
Following the media publication of the leaked HSBC files, David Hillman, spokesperson for the U.K.-based Robin Hood Tax campaign, said the revelations have exposed "once again the rotten core of banking." The ongoing behavior of the international banks such as this, Hillman continued, "shows a sector not content with dodging its own obligations, but also conniving to help the richest people shirk their responsibilities to society as well."
Also on Tuesday, Attorney General designate Loretta Lynch, whose confirmation by the senate is widely expected, said that the previous agreement between the DOJ and the bank does not negate the possibility of future prosecutions.
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As the Guardian reports:
The leaked files from HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary show how the bank colluded with some clients to conceal billions of assets from domestic tax authorities across the world. Lynch, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, is under pressure to explain what action the DoJ has taken since obtaining the data leak five years ago.
Lynch said in a letter to the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, that the deal she reached with HSBC in 2012 “does not provide [the bank] any protection against prosecution for conduct” outside of the terms of that settlement, which was specifically about money-laundering and sanctions breaches.
The prospective attorney general said she was making the remarks “in the context of recent media reports regarding the release of HSBC files pertaining to its tax clients”. The HSBC Swiss data, leaked by an computer expert, was obtained by French authorities and shared with the DoJ in April 2010.