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HSBC apologises over tax dodging claims as ex-chairman quits lobby group

HSBC has published a full–page apology in Sunday newspapers for conduct in its Swiss private bank, which allegedly saw staff aid account holders in tax evasion.

An investigation by the BBC, the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last week claimed the bank had supported more than 1,000 UK customers in dodging tax bills between 2005 and 2007.

In the advert, which appeared in the Mail on Sunday and the Sun on Sunday, HSBC UK chief executive Stuart Gulliver admitted coverage of the scandal had been “a painful experience” but maintained that standards had been raised.

Gulliver wrote: “The media focus has been on historical events that show the standards to which we operate today were not universally in place in our Swiss operations eight years ago.

“We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us. We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.”

Gulliver added many of the individuals passed to UK tax authorities were no longer clients: “We have absolutely no appetite to do business with clients who are evading their taxes or who fail to meet our financial crime compliance standards.”

Officials received details of 1,100 UK account holders in 2010, but just a single prosecution has since been secured.

HM Revenue & Customs chief executive Lin Homer told MPs last week that 130 cases remain outstanding.

At the same time, Lord Green, who served as HSBC chairman from 2006 to 2010, has resigned his position as advisory council chairman of financial services lobby group The City UK in a bid to avoid tarnishing its operations.

Green will be replaced by City UK and Standard Life chairman Sir Gerry Grimstone with immediate effect.

Grimstone says: “Stephen Green is a man of great personal integrity who has given huge service to his country and the City.

“He doesn’t want to damage the effectiveness of The City UK in promoting good governance and doing the right thing so has decided to step aside from chairing our advisory council. This is entirely his own decision.”

Green was made a Conservative peer in 2010, and served as David Cameron’s trade minister from 2011 to 2013.

Labour shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie MP responded to Green’s City UK resignation by demanding more answers from the Conservative Party.

Leslie said: “Did David Cameron and George Osborne discuss tax evasion at HSBC with Lord Green? The Prime Minister failed to answer this four times in the House of Commons this week.

“Why did they appoint Lord Green as a Tory Minister months after the government received these files? Why have we only had one prosecution out of 1,100 names? And why did George Osborne and the Treasury sign a deal with the Swiss in 2012 which prevents the UK from actively obtaining similar information in the future?

“It is time we finally had answers from David Cameron and George Osborne.”

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown also named Green head of his business advisory council, while Green was also invited on a trade mission by the party in 2013.

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