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[BERNE] Switzerland's bank regulator said on Tuesday that while the scandal surrounding HSBC's private Swiss bank was "unsavoury" the Geneva-based lender had been working hard to clean itself up.
Britain's HSBC has admitted past failings in compliance and control at its Swiss bank following allegations it may have enabled clients to conceal millions of dollars of assets. It faces investigation by US and French authorities, as well as an inquiry by British lawmakers.
"The matter is unsavoury and it paints a picture of Switzerland that we don't like to see: the Switzerland of 10 or more years ago," Mark Branson, head of Swiss financial regulator FINMA, told a news conference.
"No bank in Switzerland has done as much during this time as HSBC has. They have decided to exit certain countries and client segments, and their number of clients has shrunk by about 70 per cent," Mr Branson said.
The scandal was sparked by data from whistleblower Herve Falciani, a former IT employee at HSBC. The allegations have put FINMA on the defensive against lawmakers inquiring about oversight of the bank.
The regulator has made some of its past enforcement actions against the Geneva-based Swiss division of HSBC public recently. They included investigations for aiding money laundering and for dealings with politically prominent clients.
Mr Branson said on Tuesday the watchdog had imposed a three-year blanket ban on HSBC acquiring so-called politically exposed persons, a term justice officials use to define those in positions that could be abused to launder money. He did not say when the ban was imposed.
A spokesman for HSBC in Geneva was not immediately available for comment.
The comments by Branson, a British, former long-time UBS banker, echo comments made last month by a rival banker, who argued that HSBC was being unjustly tarnished.