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Blood diamonds prominent as multi-billion-dollar Swiss Leaks scandal hits HSBC

by Greg Klein | February 9, 2015

HSBC’s secret Swiss bank accounts facilitated billions of dollars in money laundering, tax evasion, fraud, arms trafficking and possibly terrorism, a team of investigative journalists reported February 8. Almost 2,000 of the account-holders are associated with the diamond industry.

The probe began in 2008 when a former HSBC employee handed files over to French tax authorities. After Le Monde got ahold of the info the paper turned to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which assembled a team of over 140 reporters from 45 countries to “sift through the data from all angles.” Excerpts from their Swiss Leaks report were released February 8 and 9.

Their revelations have rich and famous—from celebrity athletes to politicians, and from rock stars to royalty—running for their spin doctors. Diamonds were central to several enormous crimes.

Diamonds have a long history of being linked to conflict and violence. The ease with which diamonds can be converted into tools of war, when not sourced responsibly, is astonishing.—Michael Gibb
of Global Witness

The report noted that the HSBC files “document huge sums of money controlled by dealers in diamonds who are known to have operated in war zones and sold gemstones to finance insurgencies that caused untold deaths.”

A co-founder of the Kimberley Process, Ian Smillie, told the ICIJ that “diamonds are a great way to launder money, to hide money, to evade taxes and all the rest.” Referring to wars financed by conflict diamonds, he added, “Half a million died in the Angolan civil war. Tens of thousands died in Sierra Leone, Congo and elsewhere. It was a huge humanitarian crisis that destabilized huge regions.”

One HSBC client, Emmanuel Shallop, got a six-year prison sentence and lost $59 million in diamonds and real estate to Belgian authorities in 2010 after being convicted of crimes related to blood diamonds from Sierra Leone.

“Diamonds have a long history of being linked to conflict and violence,” the report quoted Michael Gibb of the human rights group Global Witness. “The ease with which diamonds can be converted into tools of war, when not sourced responsibly, is astonishing.”

HSBC replied that it has “taken significant steps over the past several years to implement reforms and exit clients who did not meet strict new HSBC standards.” Its Swiss unit has shed about 70% of account-holders, the bank added.

Read more about the ICIJ Swiss Leaks report here and here.

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