Give us back our billions, Argentina tells HSBC

Ricardo Echegaray

Argentinian tax authorities are demanding that HSBC return $3.5 billion that they say the bank helped to spirit out of the country.

Argentina insists that this money was moved to Switzerland to allow clients to evade taxes and that HSBC’s assistance constituted a breach of the law. HSBC argues that it acted legally, has done nothing wrong and is cooperating with the judiciary.

However, the authorities now want the funds to be repatriated so that they can be taxed on their terms.

“Without tax collection, there is no government, there is no public policy, there is no State, that is to say there is no country,” said Ricardo Echegaray, head of the Federal Administration of Public Revenue (AFIP).

He added that the organisation was also working with UK investigators.

AFIP has filed criminal charges and says it is willing to pursue HSBC through the courts if necessary, describing the funnelling of funds through Swiss bank accounts as “financial piracy.”

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also takes a dim view of HSBC’s behaviour, saying that the bank appeared to be “rich in bureaucracy and very, very short on common sense”.

She added: “When things go wrong in the public sector on your watch you resign. No one has deigned to accept responsibility.”