HSBC Leak Reveals Key Art World Tax Avoidance Connections

Leaked documents from HSBC’s secretive Swiss banking arm have this week reveal snippets of private information about some of the bank’s art world clients. There are 100,000 individuals and companies listed in the 2005 to 2007 records, and found in the leaked papers are the French artist Christian Boltanski, the fashion photographer Helmut Newton and Alfred Taubman, the property developer and philanthropist who was chairman of Sotheby’s for ten years who, between 2002 and 2003, served a ten-month prison sentence for auction price-fixing. However none of which are accused of wrongdoing.

Christopher Tennyson, told the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) that Taubman has been linked to six accounts and a representative, and these were held by Athena Group, a real estate company in which Taubman was an investor, to support development projects in Russia.

The late Helmut Newton, was linked to an account numbered “3144FY”, with another account opened three days after his death in the name of the Helmut Newton Foundation (HNF), which held a maximum $35,528, according to the ICIJ. “bank account forms (and always has formed) part of the HNF’s annual accounts which each year are audited by a Swiss accounting company, whose work is in accordance with Swiss law.” A Board member of the Foundation is quoted on the ICIJ’s website, saying that also the procedures for opening the bank account were initiated before Newton’s unexpected death.

Boltanski had a numbered account with HSBC in Switzerland but has revised his financial arrangements since 2007. Boltanski did not respond to our requests for comment according to Le Monde, which is one of the news outlets collaborating in the investigation,

Meanwhile Stephen Green, has repeatedly told the media that he is not commenting on the business of HSBC “past or present”. He was executive chairman of HSBC between 2006 and 2010 and who served as trade minister in the UK between 2011 and 2013, became the Chair of London’s Natural History Museum in 2014 (a four-year appointment) and is a former trustee of The British Museum.

HSBC has responded to the accusations that the bank was involved in helping its high-net-worth clients hide assets from the tax authorities.

“In the past, the Swiss private banking industry operated very differently to the way it does today… Although there are numerous legitimate reasons to have a Swiss bank account, in some cases individuals took advantage of bank secrecy to hold undeclared accounts.” In a statement to The Guardian. The bank added that it has reduced its client base by almost 70% since 2007.

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