Hundreds of South Africans have stashed more than $2-billion (about R23-billion) in accounts at Swiss banking group HSBC, details of which have now emerged in a leak that shines a new spotlight on the secretive world of Swiss banking.
The information was dug out by a network of journalists in 45 countries operating under the banner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They used records first obtained by French newspaper Le Monde.
Another version of the records was obtained by the French government in 2010, which led to numerous prosecutions, but this is the first global release of the data.
It is not illegal to have a Swiss account, and not all South Africans who have them use them with duplicitous intent.
However, the list has also exposed the secret bank accounts in which crooks, tax dodgers, arms dealers, shady diamond dealers, politicians and celebrities stash their cash.
In all, $102-billion was stashed in Swiss accounts on behalf of more than 100000 people and entities from 203 countries.
There were 585 South Africans on the list, who held $2.09-billion in 2221 accounts.
The documents confirm that Fana Hlongwane – accused of being the bagman for bribes paid in South Africa’s arms deal – held a number of accounts with HSBC.
Hlongwane is listed as the beneficial owner of an account, Leynier Finance SA, that contained $888000. Two other accounts, which held $12-million at one point in 2006-2007, do not specify his role.
Hlongwane did not reply to requests for comment. Efforts to reach his lawyers failed.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Times in 2010 confirmed that Hlongwane, dubbed a playboy with a millionaire’s lifestyle, was indirectly paid millions by British defence company BAE.
Hlongwane was the special adviser to the late defence minister Joe Modise.
In December, Hlongwane told the arms deal inquiry that money did not change hands in the deal.
“Contrary to popular belief, I was never appointed or requested by the minister [Modise] to participate in the [strategic defence procurement package] in any manner, shape or form,” he said.
A number of other prominent South Africans, including directors of large JSE-listed companies, are also named as account holders.
But a US investigation in 2012 also showed that a number of shady individuals – including Latin-American drug cartels, and terrorists – used Swiss banks to launder millions.