At least 17 prominent individuals in Tanzania’s political and business circles have been keeping millions of dollars in HSBC Bank in Geneva, The Citizen has learnt.
The account holders’ list also bears names of three local companies that have stashed millions in the same bank, according to details which this paper has gathered.
The revelation comes in the wake of confirmed reports that French authorities sit on leaked data from HSBC, which could give a breakthrough in Tanzania’s investigation into the much-reported Swiss billions.
Switzerland is one of the countries where, it is alleged, ill-gotten wealth by businesspeople and politicians is hidden.
The government established a committee to trace the owners of the $196.87 million allegedly stashed in Swiss banks by Tanzanians, following a private motion tabled by Mr Zitto Kabwe (Kigoma North – Chadema) in 2012.
The names of the Tanzania’s 17 individuals and three companies were obtained by French authorities early last year, according to a well-placed source close to the investigation team.
Responding to questions online, the source wrote last week: “I was right; HSBC in Geneva had customers in Tanzania. I understand there are up to 17 individuals in Tanzania who had a links with the bank revealed in the data obtained by the French authorities. Another three “contracts” were with a bank and two other entities…I hope this is of some assistance.”
The source is one of the members of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) team that investigated and broke the story on the offshore leak which rocked Europe, US, and China last year. His claims are corroborated by the HSBC whistle-blower who leaked the data to French authorities. Some three years ago, authorities in Paris launched a manhunt in pursuit of tax evaders who use Swiss banks to hide their wealth.
French authorities finally got the data after a former senior HSBC employee, identified as Ms Herve Falciani, stole bank information bearing names of foreign individuals and companies that secretly keep their money in Swiss banks.
Ms Falciani, together with a French journalist, Ms Valentine Orbeti, are currently working on a book about secret bank accounts managed by foreigners from Europe, US and Africa.
According to details gathered by The Citizen, when the French authorities obtained the data stolen from HSBC, they also shared the details with foreign governments, especially those which have bilateral agreement with Paris on exchange of information. It is not clear whether Tanzania and France have a bilateral agreement to exchange information.
The Citizen understands that any Tanzanian individual or company is allowed to open and operate an overseas bank account, but an authorisation from the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) must be obtained.
ZITTO KABWE’S INFO
This being the case, the expose of names of Tanzanians who have accounts with HSBC bank in Geneva is not suggestion that the individuals have broken the law or obtained their billions illegally.
Contacted on Saturday, Mr Kabwe, who claimed in Parliament that there were millions of dollars kept by some politicians, civil servants and businesspeople in Swiss banks said: “I am aware that French authorities have data that could make a breakthrough to Tanzanian government.
“I was in UK some few weeks ago; I met the key people who told me about the HSBC data that was leaked to French authorities… I am already in contact with some French MPs who accessed the data,” the Kigoma North MP told The Citizen.
He revealed plans to travel to France after initiating official contact, using his authority as chairman of the Public Account Committee (PAC).
But, Mr Kabwe declined to divulge further details on who exactly was his contacts in France and only noted: “I am doing my own investigations…Once I have all the details, I will furnish the government with credible evidence.”
The HSBC data leaked to French authorities is different from the offshore leak that was availed mid last year. The leaked offshore data was obtained by the UK’s Guardian newspaper in collaboration with the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICJ) and analysed by over 110 journalists worldwide in 2013. The ICIJ’s exploration of offshore secrets began when a computer hard drive packed with corporate data arrived in the post.
Mr Gerard Ryle, the ICIJ director, obtained the small black box as a result of his three-year investigation of Australia’s Firepower scandal, a case involving offshore havens and corporate fraud.
The hard drive contained more than 260 gigabytes,. Its files included two million emails and four large databases. There were details of more than 122,000 offshore companies or trusts, and nearly 12,000 intermediaries (agents or “introducers”)