Politicians, wealthy investors and other prominent figures in Venezuela, Brazil and across Latin America have come under suspicion after the release on Monday of an investigative report detailing the numerous foreign clients of Swiss bank HSBC.
The report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several news organizations, including Univisión, was compiled based on more than 60,000 internal HSBC documents from 2006 and 2007. The documents were leaked to French tax authorities in 2008 by whistleblower Hervé Falciani, a former employee at the banking giant. The French then shared the information with other governments, some of which began their own investigations.
The list of individuals and organizations revealed to hold accounts with the bank includes celebrities, European royalty, CEOs, arms dealers and drug traffickers.
Though many countries and individual investors were named in the report, nicknamed “Swissleaks,” Venezuela and Brazil were particularly notable for the amount of money clients had in HSBC accounts — and who those clients were.
Venezuela was revealed as a major client in the Swiss banking industry and the country with the third-largest amount of money in the foreign bank. The $14.8 billion of funds held by Venzuelan clients in the bank between 1998-2007 put it behind only Switzerland itself ($31.2 billion) and the United Kingdom ($21.7 billion) for the largest sources of funds in Swiss HSBC accounts during that time period. The United States was fourth, right after Venezuela, with $13.9 billion.
The vast majority of Venezuela’s HSBC holdings — $11.9 billion — was in an account for Venezuela’s Treasury Office, officially under the name of Alejandro Andrade, the country’s former treasury minister from 2007-2010. He was also President of the Economic and Social Development Bank of Venezuela from 2008-2010 and a onetime bodyguard for former President Hugo Chávez. The bank, known as Bandes, was the target of a U.S. investigation for an alleged kickback scheme during Andrade’s tenure as president, though he was not named in the case.
By 2007, the amount of money in accounts linked to Andrade was decreased to $698 million — still a significant sum of money for the country.
Many in Venezuela are asking why Andrade, who now lives in Florida, was responsible for an account of government money. Opposition leaders within the country, meanwhile, are calling on the government of President Nicolás Maduro to clarify exactly what billions of dollars of public funds are doing in bank accounts halfway across the world.
Cómo ciudadano y como Diputado, solicito que el gobierno aclare destinos de depósito de dineros públicos en cuentas de bancos suizos
— Andres Velasquez (@AndresVelasqz) February 9, 2015
Though Brazil didn’t have the same staggering quantity of funds as Venezuela, the report still raised plenty of questions about where Brazilian investors are keeping their money. Latin America’s largest country had the fourth-highest number of total accounts at the bank, with 8,667 accounts in the name of Brazilian citizens or holders of a Brazilian passport.
Brazil also had the ninth largest total amount of money in Swiss HSBC accounts, just a few billion behind Venezuela at $7 billion.
The revelations come at a problematic time for Brazilian finances, as state-owned oil company Petrobras is facing an investigation for one of the largest corruption scandals in the country’s history. Investigators have said some of the individuals who allegedly profited from the extensive kickback scheme did keep money in foreign accounts, but have not specified which banks. Still, the release of the HSBC documents has lead to widespread speculation that the bank may have been responsible for some of those accounts.
Big names, big money
Other prominent figures named in the documents included Ecuadorean Álvaro Noboa, a former presidential candidate and head of Grupo Noboa. His company Fruit Shippers Limited had an account at the bank that held up to $92.1 million.
Carlos Hank Rhon, a Mexican billionaire and co-owner of Grupo Financiero Interacciones and Grupo Hermes, had a personal account with $20.1 million, as well as an account in the name of “Hmex Pte. Ltd.” The account, for which he was the principal until his name was disassociated with it, had 10 accounts that held as much as $158 million total. Two former heads of Mexico’s stock exchange and other prominent businessmen, including the former head of Walmart Mexico, also appeared in the documents.
Uruguayan football star Diego Forlán and the head of Spain’s Banco Santander, Emilio Botín, were also linked to multi-million-dollar HSBC accounts.
Other Latin American nations with large numbers of clients storing money in the bank were Argentina, with 3,625 clients ($3.5 billion total) and Panama, with 1,211 ($2.8 billion).
Of course, maintaining a Swiss bank account isn’t illegal and doesn’t necessarily indicate that the account holder is doing anything wrong. Still, the immense quantities of money being held offshore by individuals — and government entities — from countries like Brazil and Venezuela, which both struggle with inequality gaps and fluctuating currency issues and gain large percentages of their GDP from oil revenue, have raised plenty of eyebrows in those countries.