The Swiss arm of HSBC was one of the most private banking institutions in the world until systems engineer Hervé Falciani leaked data related to over 100,000 suspected tax evaders from his employer. Motorsports stars Valentino Rossi, Flavio Briatore, Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen were on the list of hacked accounts.
According to Bloomberg, HSBC is one of the Swiss banking institutions facing criminal prosecution for allowing clients to deposit cash without revealing their identities. This makes laundering money, hiding ill-begotten cash or evading taxes a lot easier.
Hervé Falciani acted as a whistleblower to various countries whose residents held secretive accounts at HSBC, taking data on suspicious accounts in order for various government agencies to investigate. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Falciani captured data on the accounts held by clients between 1988 and 2007, the maximum amount in each account from 2006 to 2007, and notes from HSBC employees on clients and their interactions with them from 2005.
Falciani provided details on the list to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who then approached other governments about the names on the list. This list is commonly referred to as the Lagarde List or Falciani List.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a report on the contents of the list, which (surprise, surprise!) included several names from international motorsport. Over $100 billion from 106,000 HSBC clients is accounted for in the report.
Let's take a look at the Swiss bank accounts held by figures in motorsport.
Fernando Alonso - $42.3 Million In Four Bank Accounts
The Formula One star first opened an HSBC account in 2002. Given that Alonso took up residency in Switzerland from 2006 to 2010, it doesn't surprise me to see him on this list. What's surprising is that he was linked to a numbered account, MAFDAF 851, that was previously under the name Fernando Alonso Diaz, but had been converted to a more private listing at some point. Fernando's role with the alphanumeric account was not specified in the leaked information. Somewhere in 2006 or 2007, Alonso held four accounts with a maximum amount totaling $42.3 million.
Alonso moved back to Spain in 2010 to be closer to friends and family. "It's great to go home. I'm happy to pay the money. I'm not poor - just a little bit less rich now," he told The Mirror of the move, which reportedly cost him $76 million in taxes. Alonso's manager, Luis Garcia Abad, told ICIJ that most of Alonso's assets have since been transferred back to Spain and that any accounts and investments he has in Swiss institutions has always been declared to Spanish authorities.
Flavio Briatore - Connected To 38 Accounts Worth $73 Million
Perhaps the least surprising person to show up in the ICIJ's investigation is former Renault team principal Flavio Briatore. Briatore was once banned from all FIA-sanctioned events over a race fixing scandal. Nelson Piquet Jr. told the FIA that Briatore and Renault chief engineer Pat Symonds instructed him to crash in order to help teammate Fernando Alonso to a win at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. French courts later overturned that ban in 2010. Briatore created the Billionaires Club, which hosts a four-day party at the Monaco Grand Prix, and dated several famous supermodels before settling down with wife and ex-Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci—who is 29 years younger than Flavio.
According to the ICIJ, Briatore did quite a bit of business with HSBC:
Briatore was linked to 9 HSBC client accounts. He was listed as beneficial owner of at least six of them: Benton Investments Inc., Pinehurst Properties, and numbered account "27361" (which closed in 2005); Adderley Trading Ltd (closed in 2004); and Formula FB Business Ltd and GP2 Ltd which remained active by the time of the leak. Through the nine client accounts, Briatore was connected with 38 bank accounts, which together held as much as $73 million between 2006/2007.
Five of Briatore's accounts were reportedly open at the time of the leak in 2008.
Briatore's lawyer Philippe Ouakra responded to the allegations made by the leak, telling the ICIJ that the information dates "back to more than 10 years ago with the effect that Mr Briatore is incapable of confirming or denying the details of your assertions." He continued to point out that many of Briatore's accounts were for businesses based in Switzerland, and that they were all in compliance with the relevant tax laws and regulations. Let's be honest, though: would a lawyer say otherwise? Given that the leak was from before Briatore was ousted from FIA events, however, it's a safe bet that he may no longer be connected to some (though not all, as he still throws a big ol' party at Monaco and the ban has been overturned) of the older motorsport-related accounts.
Heikki Kovalainen - $132,765 In Three Bank Accounts
Kovalainen is an actual surprise on this list, given that he was often referred to as the "Niceman" in F1, a play off the fact that fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen is the "Iceman." He's the man responsible for the single best Finn-centric commercial for Formula One ever, too.
Everyone from F1 here seems to have a connection to Renault, however. In 2007, Kovalainen replaced Fernando Alonso at the team. While he doesn't have a ride in Formula One for this year, Kovalainen is reportedly worth $25 million.
Kovalainen was only linked to one client account under his name at HSBC in the leak. That account was linked to three bank accounts with a relatively low dollar amount compared to Alonso's and Briatore's: a maximum amount of just $132,765 in all three linked accounts in sometime in 2006 or 2007. Like Alonso's MAFDAF 851 account, Kovalainen's exact role with the account was not specified in the leaked information. However, the fact that Kovalainen's postal address listed in 2007 was in Oxford, UK, was enough to raise an eyebrow at this mere six figures of cash. Kovalainen did not respond to the ICIJ's request for comment.
Valentino Rossi - $23.9 Million In Two Bank Accounts
"The Doctor" is an Italian MotoGP fan favorite, and has appeared in stories like this one before. Rossi had been previously investigated for tax evasion by Italian authorities in 2007 over his decision to live in London, so it's not a huge surprise to see him here. He paid $27.6 million in an agreement to settle the case with the tax authorities in 2008.
Rossi had one alphanumeric client account, similar to Alonso's, called Kikiki 62. Under this account were two bank accounts that held a maximum amount of $23.9 million sometime in 2006 or 2007. Rossi's lawyer told the ICIJ that the MotoGP star is now in compliance with all international tax laws regarding any Swiss or international accounts he has, and that the situation with Italian authorities had been "regularized."
HSBC, of course, claims that they have since changed the way they do business. "HSBC has initiated numerous initiatives designed to ensure that its banking services are not used to evade taxes or launder money," reads a company statement about the ICIJ report, as quoted by Bloomberg. HSBC's statement claims that the company has undergone "a radical transformation" in the way they do business in response to concerns that their private accounts could be used for tax evasion and other criminal purposes.
Given the information released in the leak, it's impossible to judge whether these motorsport personalities are guilty of any wrongdoing that has not already been prosecuted by international authorities. Given that HSBC was often chosen for its highly private way of doing business, it is a decent bet that none of them are too happy about their financial details being leaked out to the media.
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