CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela was among the top clients for HSBC's Swiss private banking arm, which helped shield wealthy clients around the world from scrutiny and taxes.
A report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several news organizations reveals that socialist Venezuela ranked third among countries with the largest dollar amounts tucked into secret Swiss HSCB bank accounts, trailing only Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Government and individual clients from the South American oil-producing country accounted for $14.8 billion in accounts, according to leaked data that covers a period ending in 2007.
The leaks raise questions about graft at a time when the Venezuelan economy is buckling under the strain of falling oil prices and the government is making motions toward cracking down on corruption.
Much of the funds were linked to Venezuela's Treasury Office. The official listed on that account is Alejandro Andrade, who got his start in the administration as a bodyguard for the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and later served as National Treasurer. He left the role in 2010, and now reportedly lives in the U.S.
From 2008 to 2010, Andrade also led the Economic and Social Development Bank of Venezuela, known as Bandes, which is an arm of the government. U.S. officials brought a case against bank officials for alleged involvement in a kickback scheme during the time Andrade was running Bandes, according to the report. Andrade was not named in the suit.
Opposition members frequently accuse Chavista officials of lining their pockets by shuffling oil dollars from one opaque fund to another. The government denies the accusations.
In terms of sheer number of accounts, Brazil came in at No. 4, with 8,667 accounts linked to clients who were Brazilian citizens or held a Brazilian passport.
The report comes at a time when corruption is under intense investigation in Brazil, in connection to what prosecutors call Brazil's biggest graft scandal yet uncovered, a massive kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras.
Prosecutors have said some of the dozens of figures facing charges of corruption in the Petrobras case kept their kickback money in foreign accounts, but it hasn't been made public in which banks.
The only Brazilian singled out in the ICIJ report was Edmond J. Safra, the deceased scion of a banking family who founded financial institutions across Brazil. He sold his holdings in 1999 to HSBC for $10.3 billion in cash. The ICIJ report linked him to seven HSBC client accounts holding upward of $5.3 million.