HSBC allowed fraudsters to transfer millions of dollars around the world even after it had learned of their scam, leaked secret files show.
Britain’s biggest bank moved the money through its US business to HSBC accounts in Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014.
Its role in the $80m (£62m) fraud is detailed in a leak of documents – banks’ “suspicious activity reports” – that have been called the FinCEN Files.
HSBC says it has always met its legal duties on reporting such activity.
The files show the investment scam started soon after the bank was fined $1.9bn (£1.4bn) in the US over money laundering. It had promised to clamp down on these sorts of practices.
The scam is known as a Ponzi scheme – a notorious type of investment racket that pays existing stakeholders with money collected from new members.
Lawyers for duped investors say the bank should have acted sooner to close the fraudsters’ accounts.
The documents leak includes a series of other revelations – such as the suggestion one of the biggest banks in the US may have helped a notorious mobster to move more than $1bn.
What are the FinCEN Files?
The FinCEN Files are a leak of 2,657 documents, at the heart of which are 2,100 suspicious activity reports, or SARs.
SARs are not evidence of wrongdoing – banks send them to the authorities if they suspect customers could be up to no good.
By law, they have to know who their clients are – it’s not enough to file SARs and keep taking dirty money from clients while expecting enforcers to deal with the problem. If they have evidence of criminal activity, they should stop moving the cash.
The leak shows how money was laundered through some of the world’s biggest banks and how criminals used anonymous British companies to hide their money.