WASHINGTON (A.W.)—On Feb. 8, the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released details from 60,000 leaked files on more than 100,000 client accounts (individual and legal) with the British banking giant HSBC. Among the 61 clients profiled on the ICIJ website is the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II.
According to the ICIJ, HSBC files revealed that Karekin II was first listed among its clients in 2000. The profile states, “He was connected to an account named ‘His Holiness Karekin II Nersis’ that listed one bank account and held as much as $1.1 million in 2006/2007.” According to the report, the leaked files do not specify the exact role that Karekin II had in relation to the account.
A spokesperson for Karekin II told the ICIJ that the account was opened by his predecessor “for the benefit of the church and its charities. This account was transferred to His Holiness Karekin II Nersissian upon the death of his predecessor to be used for the same purposes. The Catholicosate—the area of responsibility of the Catholicos—of the Armenian Church is a national religious institution and is not subject to any taxes,” and that His Holiness “has immunity from any taxes.”
According to the ICIJ, the French newspaper Le Monde originally obtained a version of the French tax authority data, which covers bank accounts of clients from more than 200 countries.
Through a comprehensive international collaboration of several media outlets, including Le Monde, the Guardian, and the BBC, the ICIJ reported that the accounts hold more than $100 billion in total, and that the private files provide important details, such as the use of aggressively marketed schemes likely to enable wealthy clients to avoid European taxes and collusion with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities.
According to the ICIJ, Armenia is ranked 146th among countries with large amounts of money, with $15.4 million. Ten clients are associated with the country (4 with Armenian passports or nationality); the highest amount of money associated with a client is $5.8 million.
The data published by the ICIJ reveals that HSBC’s private banking unit has made significant profits over the years by handling the secret personal accounts of clients including arms dealers, heads of drug cartels, and even royalty. So far, the ICIJ has published the profiles of 61 HSBC clients and the details of their accounts.
Other clients that have been profiled in the project include King Abdullah II of Jordan, alleged arms fixer A.K. Gulamali, and musician Phil Collins.
Founded in 1997 by American journalist Chuck Lewis, the ICIJ is a global network of 185 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories, focusing on issues including cross-border crime, corruption, and accountability.