Banking giant HSBC's Swiss operation hid millions of dollars for everyone from arms dealers to celebrities, said a news report based on leaked documents.

"The leaked files, based on the inner workings of HSBC's Swiss private banking arm, relate to accounts holding more than $100 billion," the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said in its story. "They provide a rare glimpse inside the super-secret Swiss banking system — one the public has never seen before."

The story, which was based on documents a former HSBC employee gave to French tax authorities in 2007, was also published by the BBC and the Guardian in Britain and Le Monde in France.

Among the main findings: The clients of HSBC Private Bank's Swiss unit included arms traffickers and those trading in blood diamonds; current and former politicians from Britain, Russia, Ukraine and India held accounts at the bank; the bank assured clients it would not disclose details of accounts to national authorities; and discussed measures to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.

Franco Morra, chief executive of HSBC's Swiss bank, said the unit "began a radical transformation in 2008 to prevent its services from being used to evade taxes or launder money."

The data cover more than $100 billion from more than 100,000 clients in 203 countries. Most of the data in the story dates from 1988 to 2007.

NPR's Jim Zarroli says: "The document release comes at a time when the secretive Swiss banking industry has been under investigation by the United States and other countries for helping its wealthy clients conceal their assets."

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