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HSBC raided in laundering investigation

AFIP inspectors turn up at HSBC’s downtown headquarters in the capital.
AFIP inspectors turn up at HSBC’s downtown headquarters in the capital.
AFIP inspectors turn up at HSBC’s downtown headquarters in the capital.
British bank said to have helped Argentine companies whitewash cash, dodge taxes

Multinational bank HSBC’s local headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires were raided by the AFIP tax bureau yesterday as part of an investigation into the bank’s involvement in alleged tax evasion and money-laundering of 224 million pesos and 392 million pesos, respectively.

AFIP raided the bank’s headquarters on Florida street as well as its offices in the Buenos Aires province districts of Avellaneda and Caseros.

The tax bureau could not get its hands on part of the documents it was after because they are in storage facilities run by Iron Mountain, judicial sources told state news agency Télam.

One of the warehouses owned by the US storage and record administration company in Buenos Aires burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances in February, killing 10 people.

A source close to the investigation said AFIP had become aware of HSBC Bank Argentina offering products tailored to suit the needs of companies that had been issuing fake invoices, which are often used to whitewash illicit cash or carry out actions intended to evade fiscal obligations.

One of the companies that issued such invoices was Red de Multiservicios SA, which sought to avoid falling under a higher income tax bracket and justify expenses.

The company paid its taxes through two physical persons, front men who also deposited cheques for Mas Distribuidora SA and Recaudaciones y Servicios del Sur SRL.

HSBC reportedly gave AFIP a different account number to the one Mas Distribuidora was using to pay for fake invoices.

The tax bureau filed a complaint against the latter company in March, denouncing it for having deposited 172 million pesos over six months in an occult account provided knowingly by the bank, while the firm’s VAT affidavits did not register any changes.

Recaudaciones y Servicios del Sur was said to have used four undeclared accounts to deposit 220 million pesos.

HSBC has been charged by AFIP as a member of an illicit association before the Criminal Court III, presided by Judge María Verónica Straccia.

In February last year, when the bank was formally denounced, tax chief Ricardo Echegaray said HSBC “had been rolling out a fraud-enabling platform” that he called “a manoeuvre to hide bank account information from tax collectors.”

At the time, HSBC Latin America spokeswoman, Lyssette Bravo, issued a statement that did not deny the accusations and promised to cooperate.

“They have to pay what they owe and break up this band of crooks, which involved private figures as well as public authorities in the purchase of fake receipts,” Echegaray said.

The bank’s local subsidiary made no comments yesterday.

Herald with Télam, Reuters, AP

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