On Sunday, an international coalition of media published a damning investigation into British bank HSBC. Files leaked by an HSBC employee show that its Swiss branch helped conceal billions of dollars of assets belonging to convicted felons and arms traffickers.
Almost ten percent of the suspect accounts belonged to Americans. Several of those named in reports have ties to South Florida.
Unsurprisingly, the two Miami residents mentioned are celebrities: Elle MacPherson and Christian Slater.
For decades, wealthy Americans hid their assets in foreign -- often Swiss -- bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. Despite agreements in the 1990s to crack down on the practice, it's only in the past five years that tax dodgers have been aggressively prosecuted.
(American citizens must now declare funds held in overseas bank accounts. Failure to do so is a felony.)
Sunday's investigation -- jointly published by the Guardian, CBS 60 Minutes, Le Monde, and the International Coalition of Investigative Journalists -- shows how the bank helped clients break the law as recently as 2008.
HSBC's private bank in Switzerland conspired with clients to keep "black" accounts hidden from tax authorities. Bank executives also provided clients with huge blocks of cash so that they could mail chunks back to the U.S. -- skirting taxes.
Two Miami residents are featured in ICIJ's report on the leaks, although neither is explicitly accused of wrongdoing.
Elle MacPherson, the supermodel who recently married local billionaire real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer, was connected to seven HSBC 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.
MacPherson's lawyers told ICIJ that "Ms MacPherson is an Australian citizen who has accounted for UK tax on the basis of full disclosure in accordance with UK law."
While MacPherson's Swiss accounts were lucrative, Christian Slater's seem to have been less serious. The Miami-based actor was linked to an account named "Captain Kirk," according to the ICIJ. It was opened in 1996 and closed a year later.
HSBC's Miami headquarters
Kolossos via Wikimedia Commons
Reports on the leaked files also mention two other men with ties to South Florida, both powerful South American politicians.
Álvaro Noboa is an Ecuadorian billionaire who owns many brands, including Bonita bananas. He has also run unsuccessfully for president on five occasions. In 2013, he mysteriously appeared in Miami after an Ecuadorian court issued a $102 million order against him.
"The Guayaquil-based tycoon was a beneficial owner of an HSBC client account started in 2006, under the name Fruit Shippers Limited, which listed postal addresses in Bermuda and the United States," according to ICIJ. "Fruit Shippers Limited is the name of a company in which Noboa is the controlling shareholder. The maximum amount in the account in 2006/2007 was $92.1 million."
The last figure to have a shady tie to a Swiss bank account is Alejandro Andrade. A former bodyguard to Hugo Chávez, Andrade served as Venezuela's national treasurer from 2007 to 2010 and president of the Economic and Social Development Bank of Venezuela (Bandes) between 2008 and 2010.
During Andrade's tenure at Bandes, the bank was involved in a $66 million brokerage firm scandal that sent four people to prison.
Andrade currently lives in Wellington in Palm Beach County, according to ICIJ, and has invested in show horses.
"Andrade was listed by the HSBC records as an attorney for the client account of the Venezuelan Treasury Office under the Ministry of Finance in 2007, when he assumed the position of national treasurer," according to ICIJ. "The Treasury Office became an HSBC client in 2005 and held an account under the name of the governmental institution. The Treasury client account listed three bank accounts that together held as much as $698 million in 2006/2007. At least six of the other seven clients linked to this account were also Venezuelan officials who worked for the Treasury Office."
Slater, Noboa, and Andrade all declined to comment for ICIJ's report on the leaked HSBC files.