LONDON - Britain's tax department on Friday confirmed it was investigating missing data after a newspaper reported that HSBC bank was being probed over offshore accounts in Jersey used by criminals.
"We can confirm we have received the data and we are studying it," HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said in a statement.
"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 added.
The revenue and customs department opened the inquiry after a whistleblower handed them details of every British client holding an account with the banking giant in the low-tax Channel Island of Jersey, the Daily Telegraph reported Friday.
The list is reported to include a convicted drug dealer now in Venezuela, a man convicted of possessing hundreds of weapons and three bankers facing major fraud claims.
The bank has a legal duty to report any suspicions about the source of money deposited in its accounts, the newspaper said.
"We are investigating the reports of an alleged loss of certain client data in Jersey as a matter of urgency," HSBC said in a statement on Friday.
"We have not been notified of any investigation in relation to this matter by HMRC or any other authority but, should we receive notification, we will cooperate fully with the authorities.
"HSBC remains fully committed to adoption of the highest global standards including the procedures for the acceptance of clients," it added.
The London-listed bank on Monday increased the amount set aside for fines linked to money-laundering in the United States to $1.5 billion, adding it could face criminal charges over the matter.
The Asia-focused lender also announced in a results statement that net profits tumbled by more than half to $2.498 billion in its third quarter, the three months to September, compared with a year earlier.
Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is a self-governing parliamentary democracy and has its own financial, legal and judicial systems.
The island's tax-haven status has come under the microscope as Britons become increasingly angry over revelations of tax-avoidance schemes while they grapple with recession and an unsustainable public deficit.