Authorities in Brussels have charged HSBC’s private banking arm, which is based in Switzerland, with helping wealthy Belgians to avoid taxes.

Prosecutors allege that hundreds of clients – including diamond dealers in Antwerp – moved money to offshore tax havens with the help of the bank.

They said it resulted in hundreds of millions of euros in lost tax revenue.

In August, HSBC warned that the penalties in relation to such allegations “could be significant”.

In a statement, Belgian authorities accused HSBC of “having knowingly eased and promoted fiscal fraud by making offshore companies available to certain privileged clients”.

These companies, which are based in Panama and the Virgin Islands, exist for the sole purpose of tax evasion, they added.

Over 1,000 taxpayers are alleged to have been involved in the fraud, which saw funds amounting to several billion dollars transferred out of Belgium since 2003.

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