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HSBC admits fault, is fined by U.S. SEC over Swiss bank

(Adds HSBC comment)

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON, Nov 25 (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings Plc (HKSE: 0005.HK - news) will pay $12.5 million to resolve charges that its Swiss private banking unit illegally offered services to U.S. clients without being properly registered, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Tuesday.

HSBC Private Bank agreed to admit wrongdoing to settle the claims, the latest in a series of cases U.S. authorities have brought against Swiss banks that helped Americans keep money in overseas accounts and often avoid paying taxes.

Credit Suisse AG (NYSE: CS - news) earlier this year paid $196 million to resolve the SEC's claims that it provided cross-border brokerage and investment advisory services to U.S. clients without first registering with the regulator.

The SEC said HSBC's Swiss unit amassed 368 U.S. accounts, and its employees traveled to the United States at least 40 times to solicit clients and provide investment advice without being registered.

The HSBC unit decided to exit the U.S. cross-border business in 2010 and transferred or closed most of the accounts by the end of 2011.

HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman said only that the Swiss unit was pleased to have reached the settlement with the SEC.

HSBC's Swiss arm remains under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, which is examining whether dozens of Swiss banks helped wealthy Americans hide money overseas. (Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha in Washington and Jonathan Stempel in New York and; Editing by Tom Brown, Richard Chang and Lisa Von Ahn)