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HSBC French Clients Had $5 Billion in Swiss Unit, Lawmaker Says

French clients of HSBC Holdings Plc had as much as $5 billion invested in the bank’s Swiss unit between November 2005 and February 2007 and about a quarter of the amount was repatriated by tax authorities, according to a lawmaker’s report.

France collected 186 million euros ($238 million) in taxes by mid-June from the “regularization” of 950 million euros in offshore holdings, French parliament member Christian Eckert said at a news conference in Paris today. Eckert said he investigated the accounts of 2,932 clients at London-based HSBC’s Swiss unit, including the names of 169 people classified as HSBC employees “linked to an address in France” who may have helped with tax evasion.

“The HSBC affair is an example of some banks’ practices deliberately helping their clients defraud the tax authorities,” Eckert said. The list included some accounts of HSBC staff with balances exceeding $100 million, he said.

“I doubt strongly that it is their personal wealth,” Eckert said. “One might think that they could be figureheads” used to protect clients’ privacy, he said.

Eckert said his findings were based partly on data provided by Herve Falciani, a former Geneva-based HSBC software technician accused by the bank of stealing data.

HSBC will study Eckert’s report, though won’t comment on its content because it’s not clear which data in the document was stolen, Medard Schoenmaeckers, a Zurich-based spokesman for HSBC in Geneva, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Falciani said in April that HSBC’s Swiss unit was an “open door” for money laundering because managers failed to exercise controls. In May, a Spanish court rejected a request to extradite Falciani to Switzerland. HSBC said it became aware in 2008 that Falciani had stolen details on 24,000 accounts at the Swiss bank.

Falciani cooperated with French investigators, who then used the data to search for tax dodgers and shared the information with Italian, Spanish and British prosecutors.

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