HSBC Swiss Leak: Media, Entertainment Figures In Firing Line

The tsunami of personal and business banking details exposed in the HSBC ‘Swiss Leaks’ scandal is now washing over major figures in the media and entertainment business.

Rocks stars including David Bowie, Tina Turner and Phil Collins, actors such as Christian Slater, Joan Collins and John Malkovich and Elle MacPherson and media businesspeople including Kerry Packer are all named in the vast trove of account details released by whistle-blower Hervé Falciani and passed to the French authorities in 2008.

It’s been a slow-burn scandal, as the material passed first to Le Monde newspaper in France and then on to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and then gradually into the public domain.

The cache is a fantastic piece of Big Data journalism, using technology to root out stories which would never have found an audience in pre-digital days.

Swiss banks have had a reputation for secrecy and keeping unsavoury clients’ money safe for decades – they notoriously accepted Nazi funds – but that secrecy has never been so catastrophically breached until now.

The most heinous examples, the arms dealers supporting genocide, the globe-trotting criminals evading justice across multiple jurisdictions, will rightly absorb the majority of law enforcers’ attention. Political figures who have traded donations for influence, while evading their national tax liabilities, will be sure to remain in the headlines for months.

The stars of stage, screen and the music business may have an easier time of it. Several were resident in Switzerland, or had Swiss nationality, at the time they had HSBC accounts, which is easy enough to justify. These include Bowie, Tina Turner and Phil Collins. Others will claim ditziness or unauthorised agents acting on their behalf (Collins), or that they knew nothing about it at all (Malkovich).

But like similar recent scandals involving artists and entertainers, such as the accounting scam which caught British comedian Jimmy Carr, who was exposed for putting £3.3 million ($4.5 million) in an offshore tax avoidance scheme in 2013, or more recently the TV presenter Gary Lineker, found to have placed money in another avoidance scheme, there is an increased focus on the tax affairs of the rich and famous.

For Europeans, this coincides neatly with the austerity programs that have emptied the pockets of middle class millions, reduced their benefits, depressed their wages and made them resentful of the soaring wealth enjoyed by a small minority.

Technology has come to their aid, exposing a legal vulnerability and hitherto unseen predilection for greed and secrecy among the rich.

There’s nothing Europeans love more than a good dose of schadenfreude.