"We received the data and we are studying it," says HMRC

Even as the Indian government faced criticism for not taking action over claims of black money allegedly held by Indians in HSBC’s branch in Geneva, the British tax authorities on Friday launched an investigation into allegations of money-laundering against the bank following claims it had opened offshore bank accounts in Jersey for “serious criminals” living in Britain.

A whistle-blower was reported to have secretly provided a detailed list of names, addresses and bank accounts of HSBC’s alleged clients. These were said to include names of several people with criminal convictions, including gun-runners and drug dealers.

HSBC said it was “investigating the reports of an alleged loss of certain client data in Jersey as a matter of urgency.”

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) confirmed that it had “received the data and we are studying it.”

“We receive information from a very wide range of sources which we use to ensure the tax rules are being respected. Clamping down on those who try to cheat the system through evading taxes and over-claiming benefits is a top priority for us, and we value the information we receive from the public and business community,” it said after a newspaper reported that the tax authorities had obtained details of every British client of HSBC in Jersey.

The move came as anti-corruption campaigners in India complained that no action had been taken more than a year after the French government gave India a CD containing names of 700 Indian clients who had accounts in HSBC’s Geneva branch.

HSBC, which is facing a fine of nearly $1.5 billion in the U.S. for breaking money laundering rules, said it had not been informed of any investigation by HMRC but would fully cooperate with it.

“HSBC remains fully committed to adoption of the highest global standards, including the procedures for the acceptance of clients,” it said.

The Daily Telegraph, which broke the story, said that the list given to HMRC identified more than 4,000 people holding £699 million in offshore accounts. It reportedly included names of several celebrities and other well-known figures.

“The information obtained by HMRC is thought to be the biggest data leak, identifying holders of offshore accounts ever obtained by the British tax authorities,’’ it said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to crack down on tax evaders in the wake of the financial crisis.