The Tories’ line on the massive tax avoidance facilitated by HSBC is unravelling rapidly. Yesterday Treasury financial secretary David Gauke told the Commons:
“This information about HSBC has been in the public domain since 2007—that is when the leaks occurred. The whole story may have come as a surprise to the hon. Lady, but it should not have done.
But now David Cameron’s official spokesman has told the lobby that “no minister” was aware of wrongdoing at the bank’s Swiss arm until Sunday:
Y'day, Tories say Ed Balls shd say what he knew about HSBC in 05. Today, No10 says no minister aware of wrongdoing at bank until this week.
— Robert Hutton (@RobDotHutton) February 10, 2015
This claim beggars belief given what was known about HSBC’s operations in Switzerland and worldwide:
- In May 2012 HSBC admitted it was facing “significant” fines as a result of a US tax avoidance investigation of its Swiss arm
- In July 2012 the government expressed “every confidence” in then minister Lord Green after a US Senate committee exposed money laundering at HSBC while he was in charge.
- HSBC then paid $12.5 million to settle the US case last November, with the probe finding that American nationals had been hiding assets in Geneva
Did Lord Green, the government’s own biography of whom notes ran private banking at HSBC before becoming chief exec and chairman (and whose register of interests includes a bonus payment) suddenly stop reading the financial press while a minister?
With pressure building for a proper account of what the government knew and when, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that George Osborne has been silent for 48 hours.