In a three page letter sent to the Sunday Times, HSBC’s lawyers Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said the list of South African clients were “stolen from HSBC”.
They said it would be a “breach of confidentiality” to publish the names, especially as this would lump them with crooks and tax dodgers. They demanded that no details be disclosed to anyone, ever.
The Sunday Times reported that the list of South African clients who held bank accounts with the bank in Switzerland is headlined by CEOs of top blue-chip companies, sports stars and a key figure in the arms deal.
It said it is not a crime for South Africans to have a Swiss bank account, and many of the individuals contacted on the list by the newspaper said they had disclosed full details of the accounts and paid all the tax.
The SA Revenue Service said it was analysing the information.
The files were stolen in 2007 by the company’s former computer specialist Herve Faciani, who said he was alarmed how “banks such as HSBC have created a system for making themselves rich at the expense of society, by assisting in tax evasion and money laundering”.
He fled to France and gave the files to French police. They were leaked to French newspaper Le Monde, then to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists who released names this week.
The Sunday Times carried a spread of some South African names, with comment from some.