Switzerland is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its extremely secretive banking business.
It’s for that reason, private Swiss bank accounts are popularly seen as belonging to only tax dodgers and, well, Swiss nationals.
Indeed, when newly leaked HSBC documents named musicians David Bowie, Phil Collins and Tina Turner as being tied to Swiss bank accounts, it wasn’t a big deal because all three are actually legal residents of Switzerland or living in Switzerland.
But the story’s a tiny bit less clear for actor John Malkovich, fashion designer Diane Von Fürstenberg, and soccer star Diego Forlán.
On Sunday, the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists along with news outlets the Guardian, the French daily Le Monde, BBC Panorama, and CBS’s 60 Minutes published what they found in HSBC’s Swiss private bank documents stolen and leaked by whistleblower Hervé Falciani. The journalists conclude that among other things, HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped clients evade taxes. The leaked files date 2005-2007.
Without establishing any clear connection to illegal activity, the journalists went ahead and revealed the names of a bunch of celebrities whose names appeared.
Here’s a summary of names and what the journalists found:
John Malcovich (actor): “Hollywood actor John Malkovich, for instance, said through a representative that he knows nothing about an account listing his name and conjectured that it might have to do with Bernard Madoff, the former stockbroker convicted of fraud who handled some of his finances.”
Joan Collins (actress): “A representative for the British actress Joan Collins told ICIJ: ‘In 1993 my client deposited funds into a bank account in London and subsequently discovered that, without her instructions, the money had been transferred to the Swiss account referred to in your letter.’ The representative added that no tax was avoided.”
Christian Slater (actor): “Christian Michael Slater was linked to an HSBC client account named “Captain Kirk,” after the Star Trek character. It was opened in 1996 and closed in 1997. The account listed two postal addresses: one in the United States, associated with ERNST & YOUNG LLP, and one in the United Kingdom. The leaked files do not specify the exact role Slater had in relation to the account.”
Diane Von Fürstenberg (fashion designer): “Diane Von Fürstenberg’s was linked to four HSBC client accounts: two numbered that were opened in 1988 and later closed in 1996 and 2002. There was another account under the name “Thunderbird Investments Ltd,” in which she showed up as beneficial owner, opened in 1994 and closed in 2002 and one account for “Licom Ltd,” where at one point she was listed as “Attorney B.” Two family members were also linked to the client account. Her mother was listed as beneficial owner of the account and then stricken. “Licom Ltd” listed seven bank accounts that together held as much as $ 6,268,217 in 2006/2007 … A spokeswoman told ICIJ that von Fürstenberg inherited Thunderbird Investments Ltd. from her parents, who were not American tax residents, and that she never received anything from Licom Ltd. Von Fürstenberg ‘made all necessary US tax filings and insisted that the assets be domesticated to the United States more than 10 years ago.’”
Diego Forlán (soccer player): “Diego Forlán became an HSBC client in 2006, while he was playing in Spain for Villarreal. He was connected to two client accounts that together listed four bank accounts. Two of them were associated with the account Rosario Trading Company S.A where he was listed as “Attorney C,” and two were associated to numbered account 12661 ZDF. Together the accounts held as much as $ 1.4 million in 2006/2007. The leaked files do not specify the exact role that Forlán had in relation to the numbered account.”
Elle MacPherson (model): “Elle MacPherson was connected to seven HSBC client accounts. She was beneficial owner of five of them. The other two, under the names of “Elle MacPherson Capital A/C” and “Elle MacPherson income A/C” do not specify the exact role that she had in relation to the accounts. The four client accounts still operative in 2008 were linked to 25 bank accounts that together held as much as $ 12.2 million in 2006/2007. Three of the accounts for which she was the beneficial owner were closed in 2000, 2001 and 2004.”
It’s quite possible that all of these celebrities’ accounts were legit and legal.
Unfortunately, their names are appearing next to alleged blood diamond traffickers and illegal arms dealers.
Read more about all of this at ICIJ.com.