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Moroccan king hits back at Swiss HSBC bank account accusations

World leaders, monarchs, celebrities and businessmen have all been caught up in the scandal
Morocco's King Mohammed VI allegedly hid $9m in HSBC's Swiss arm (AFP)
Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Wednesday hit back at accusations of wrongdoing saying that holdings made with HSBC’s Swiss banking arm were opened with "strict respect" for his country's tax laws.
The king was among hundreds of clients whose names cropped up when stolen files were released by a whistleblower earlier this month. According to the leaks, the London-based bank helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119bn.
King Mohammed was found to have some 7.9m euros ($9m) in the HSBC bank account between 2006 and 2007, the period covered by the secret files.
"The sum of money held by His Majesty the King in the HSBC account targeted by your article was transferred there in total transparency with the formal and prior agreement of the exchange office, as required by Moroccan law," the king wrote in a letter to Le Monde newspaper.
"The opening of this account was thus carried out with strict respect for fiscal laws."
However, the newspaper stressed that it was "illegal, in principal, for Moroccans residing in Morocco to hold a foreign bank account.”
But in his letter, the king dismissed the allegations saying that he was "in no way a fiscal resident of France” which made it “hard to understand under what conditions he is included among the 'elites of French tax evasion'" – a reference to the newspaper's headline.
More than 30 percent of fortunes owned by Moroccan's elite are in UK or Swiss banks, according to a 2012 report by the Boston Consultancy Company. The report also estimates that between 60-65 percent of the total $41bn dollars deposited in these banks had been acquired through tax evasion.  
King Mohammed was just one of many Middle East notables to be caught out in the leaks.
While Swiss clients had placed the most money with the Geneva-based bank, at $31.2bn, followed by British nationals at $21.7bn, Venezuelans at $14.8bn and Americans at $13.4bn, individuals linked to Israel were the sixth on the list, holding $10bn.
Billionaire businessman Beny Steinmetz and his brother, Daniel, who made a fortune in diamonds, held more than $100m in the bank.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II also had three accounts that he opened in 2004 under one of his officials’ names. The accounts held $41.8m during 2006 and 2007.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the king in the US said “as a royal he [Abdullah] is exempt from paying tax” and explained the money was being used for “royal business.”
Former Egyptian trade minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid, who fled Cairo during the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, featured as having power of attorney over an account worth $31m.
Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother-in-law of Tunisia’s ousted long-time leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, also featured on the list with an account valued at $22m in 2007.
Simply being featured on the list is not considered a criminal offence but Swiss authorities have begun probing the allegations and are looking into whether any criminal wrongdoing took place. They raided HSBC's offices in Switzerland on Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation. 

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