Investigators launched a search on Wednesday of British banking giant HSBC's Geneva offices as part of a money laundering probe following allegations the bank helped clients evade millions of dollars in taxes, Swiss prosecutors said.
"Following the recent revelations related to the HSBC Private Bank (Switzerland), the public prosecutor announces the opening of a criminal procedure against the bank... for aggravated money laundering," Geneva prosecutors said in a statement.
The search was taking place at HSBC's Swiss headquarters headed by the Geneva cantonal prosecutor general Olivier Jornot, assisted by another top prosecutor, Yves Bertossa.
The prosecutors said they had opened the probe against the bank itself, but that "depending on the evolution, the investigation might be broadened to include physical persons suspected of committing or participating in acts of money laundering."
The investigation stemmed from "the recent public revelations" about the private bank, prosecutors said.
Last week's report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several news organizations found that the bank hid millions of dollars as it helped wealthy people around the world dodge taxes.
It was based on leaked documents, in the so-called SwissLeaks case, covering the period up to 2007 and relating to accounts worth $100 billion held by more than 100,000 people and legal entities from 200 countries.
The files, which include the names of celebrities, alleged arms dealers and politicians, were originally stolen by former HSBC IT worker Herve Falciani in 2007.
Falciani, gave the data to French tax authorities in 2008 and France shared it with other governments and launched investigations.
The French newspaper Le Monde obtained a version of the data and shared the material with the ICJ, which analyzed the material together with other newspapers like the Indian Express.
According to the documents, billions of dollars transited through the bank as customers from around the world tried to dodge the taxman in their home countries or in a bid to launder procedes through shell corporations.