Venezuelan Minister of Economy, Finance and Public Banking Rodolfo Marco Torres
Caracas - AFP
The Venezuelan government's bank accounts at the Swiss division of HSBC, which were revealed in the "SwissLeaks" scandal, are "totally transparent," said the South American country's economy minister.
Venezuela ranked third among the countries with the largest dollar amounts in the leaked Swiss files, behind Switzerland and Britain, journalists with access to the secret documents said at the weekend.
Clients connected to the oil-rich South American country had $14.8 billion in accounts detailed in data stolen by an IT worker at the bank in 2007 and passed to French authorities, then to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Venezuelan Economy Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres, who is listed as responsible for one account, opened in the name of the Bank of the Venezuelan Treasury in October 2005, defended the government's use of Swiss accounts.
"These accounts are totally transparent. They're not secret accounts. They've been through the accounting and review process," he said Wednesday.
The treasury bank "had resources and deposited them in that account through a trust," Torres said.
There are also "different sub-accounts where investments and payments to service providers were made," he added, saying there was "nothing abnormal" about the arrangement.
Venezuela's treasury bank was opened in 2005 under late socialist president Hugo Chavez.
Torres said it also had accounts at 15 other international banks.
The leaked documents, which cover the period 2005 to 2007, show 1,282 accounts linked to Venezuelans at HSBC's Swiss Private Bank.
According to the ICIJ, the largest accounts were linked to Alejandro Andrade, a former Chavez bodyguard who served as national treasurer from 2007 to 2010 and as president of the Economic and Social Development Bank of Venezuela (Bandes) from 2008 to 2010.
The United States alleges that during this period corrupt officials at the bank ran a massive kickback scheme that generated $66 million in revenue for a Miami brokerage firm.
Prosecutors in New York charged four individuals over the allegations and the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil court action.
Andrade was not named in the suit.
He currently lives in an upscale neighborhood in Palm Beach County, Florida, and invests in show horses, the ICIJ said.
The "SwissLeaks" documents claim HSBC helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion.
The huge cache of files has sparked criminal probes in several countries.