Papers leaked from Mossack Fonseca have revealed close relatives of seven current or former Chinese leaders have links to offshore companies.
The Panama documents name family members of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and two other members of China’s elite Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan.
Relatives of the three men are listed as directors or shareholders in companies located in known tax havens.
The names appeared in a mass leak of files from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Chinese state media are blocking reports of the families’ offshore dealings, and the news is being censored on Chinese social media outlets.
It is not illegal for Chinese citizens to set up offshore companies. However, China’s Communist officials are discouraged from profiting from their ruling positions and their family members are not supposed to profit from their ties, according to the party’s constitution.
More than 300,000 party officials were punished last year under an ongoing anti-corruption campaign, orchestrated by President Xi Jinping.
All three leaders have in-laws who are listed as directors or shareholders in companies located in known tax havens, including the British Virgin Islands.
It is widely known that many of China’s elite families have succeeded in the business world and their wealth is well documented.
However, the leaked files from Mossack Fonseca divulge how much of that wealth is managed overseas, in opaque corporate structures that until now remained hidden from public view.
HSBC Private Bank’s Brussels branch is being accused of helping wealthy Belgians to avoid taxes.
Belgian prosecutors allege that hundreds of clients – including diamond dealers in Antwerp – moved money to offshore tax havens with the help of the bank.
They said it resulted in hundreds of millions of euros in lost tax revenue.
In August, HSBC warned that the penalties in relation to such allegations “could be significant”.
In a statement, Belgian authorities accused HSBC of “having knowingly eased and promoted fiscal fraud by making offshore companies available to certain privileged clients”.
These companies, which are based in Panama and the Virgin Islands, exist for the sole purpose of tax evasion, they added.
Over 1,000 taxpayers are alleged to have been involved in the fraud, which saw funds amounting to several billion dollars transferred out of Belgium since 2003.
Responding to the announcement by Belgian authorities, HSBC said it had been notified of the investigation, and of a similar investigation by French authorities, and that the bank would “continue to cooperate to the fullest extent possible”.
Banks operating in Switzerland are bound by the European Union Savings Directive to counter cross-border tax evasion, by collecting information on the savings income foreign residents receive outside their resident state.
Belgian authorities also published emails and other correspondence between HSBC and Belgian clients, which appear to show the bank offering tax evasion services.
Prosecutor Michel Claise accused HSBC of “fraud, money laundering, criminal association and illegal exercise of the profession of financial intermediary”.
In October, Belgian police raided the homes of approximately 20 people with private bank accounts at HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary, to gather evidence against the lender.
HSBC has been subject to a series of fines for misconduct in recent years, most recently in relation the manipulation of foreign currency exchange rates.
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