London - HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, is at the centre of an investigation by British tax authorities into leaked data that a newspaper said showed it provided accounts in the tax haven of Jersey for alleged criminals.
The authorities confirmed they were looking into details of clients in the Channel island after being handed a list of names, addresses and account balances.
"We can confirm we have received the data and we are studying it. We receive information from a very wide range of sources which we use to ensure the tax rules are being respected," HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said in a statement.
HSBC said it was investigating the alleged loss of client data, first reported in the Daily Telegraph, "as a matter of urgency".
The Telegraph said some of the clients were convicted criminals or facing criminal allegations.
"We have not been notified of any investigation in relation to this matter by HMRC or any other authority but, should we receive notification, we will cooperate fully with the authorities," the bank said on Friday.
HSBC said it was "fully committed to adoption of the highest global standards including the procedures for the acceptance of clients".
Like all banks, HSBC, which has been criticised by US regulators for lax anti-money-laundering controls in Mexico and elsewhere and last year saw thousands of its Swiss clients probed by the British taxman, is obliged to report to authorities any suspicions about the source of money deposited in its accounts.
The bank's London-listed shares fell 0.33% to 600.9 pence on Friday, but outperformed the European banking index, which dropped 1.18%.
After the financial crisis, the banking industry around the world is under intense scrutiny over its standards and past practices, which have included mis-selling of financial products and interest-rate rigging. And banks have become caught up in cash-strapped governments' efforts to crack down on tax evaders sheltering money in offshore accounts.
"It feels to me like the banking sector is being seen as a money-stuffed piñata for everyone to have a whack at - be it regulators or governments or consumers," said one of HSBC's 10 biggest investors, who asked not to be named.
"I am very bothered, but is this an HSBC-specific issue? No, I do not think it is. I think that general standards of compliance are being challenged everywhere," the investor said.
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