HSBC Wins $1.6 Billion Suit Over Disney Film Finance Scandal

HSBC Holdings Plc successfully fought off a London court claim brought by a group of investors in a £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) lawsuit over tax breaks linked to Walt Disney Co. film financing.

The bank faced allegations that it misled investors over the Eclipse Partnerships, which touted opportunities to back films like Pirates of the Caribbean 2. HSBC’s private bank helped promote the film financing program that was challenged by tax authorities and turned out be worthless, lawyers for the investor group said previously. Some investors have since entered bankruptcy and are facing demands for millions in back taxes from UK authorities.

The claim was originally worth £1.3 billion in losses and damages and brought by hundreds of investors including senior bankers and traders in the City, though some settled during the trial.

Judge Robert Bright said while investors had suffered significant losses, they couldn’t assert that HSBC and its bankers had acted dishonestly.

“I have great sympathy for the claimants,” the judge said in the ruling Friday. “Their losses are significant, their suffering has been real — even for those who did not claim for distress — and they have every right to feel aggrieved. When all is said and done, they were badly let down.”

The lawsuit is the latest fallout from the decade-old British film partnerships tax scandal. Investment in the film industry ballooned after the government boosted tax credits in the late 1990s. The change allowed people to cut their personal tax bills, but UK authorities tightened the rules in 2007 after questions over the legitimacy of some of the productions.

The Eclipse program, which allowed investors to borrow to fund their contributions to the scheme and then set off the interest on that borrowing, was successfully challenged by tax authority HMRC in court.

A spokesperson for HSBC didn’t immediately comment and a lawyer for the investors didn’t respond to calls. Disney wasn’t sued as part of the litigation.