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Court case against HSBC whistleblower adjourned

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Hervé Falciani: decides against returning to Switzerland. Photo: AFP
10:51 CEST+02:00
A trial in Switzerland has been adjourned against Hervé Falciani, the former IT worker from the HSBC Private Bank in Geneva who leaked data about thousands of suspected tax evaders.

Falciani, 43, now living in Spain, failed to appear in the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona in the canton of Ticino on Monday to defend himself against charges of violating Swiss banking secrecy laws and other offences.

Federal prosecutor Carlo Bulletti requested the adjournment in view of Falciani's non-appearance.

The whistle-blower has already said that he would not appear in the court for Monday's court hearing or at another one set for November 2nd, the ATS news agency reported.

Falciani copied data relating to 130,000 suspected tax evaders with hundreds of millions of dollars in accounts at HSBC and since 2009 has been cooperating with various European countries by providing this information to governments.

The Franco-Italian faces criminal charges in Switzerland for unauthorized data procurement, economic espionage and violation of business secrets, in addition to breaching Swiss banking secrecy laws.

The prosecutor Bulletti has appealed to Falciani to return to Switzerland to explain himself and defend his behaviour, ATS reported.

Falciani is alleged to have copied the details of HSBC Private Bank accounts between 2006 and 2008 and then subsequently made the data available to public institutions and private companies in different countries between 2008 and 2014, according to court information.

While Falciani is widely viewed as a whistleblower and hailed as a hero in countries where his leaked information is helping net tax cheats, Swiss authorities are prosecuting him.
   
"Do I have the right to a just and fair trial? Maybe, but can one really call this a trial?" Falciani told the Swiss business weekly HandelsZeitung last week.
   
The trial had been set to run through to October 20th.
   
Falciani became an IT worker for HSBC in 2000 and moved to the bank's offices in Geneva in 2006.
   
The so-called "Snowden of tax evasion" and "the man who terrifies the rich" obtained access to a massive database of encrypted customer information.
   
In 2007 Falciani took the names of over 120,000 clients and by 2008 headed for Lebanon with his mistress and a plan to sell the data.

Swiss authorities described it as "cashing in".
   
Yet suspicious bankers in Lebanon were not interested in buying the dubiously sourced client list, and at least one instead tipped off counterparts in Switzerland to Falciani's activities.
   
After his plan to sell the data fell apart, Falciani got in contact with European fiscal authorities and began passing them the pilfered information, which prompted numerous tax evasion audits.

After an initial interrogation by Geneva cantonal police about his activities, he left Switzerland in December 2008 and has not returned since.

Falciani was arrested in Barcelona, Spain in 2012 but was released after Spanish authorities, who have used his stolen bank data to identify tax cheats, refused a request for his extradition by Switzerland.

The French government has also refused to extradite him.

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Falciani's list is credited with identifying wealthy tax evaders, including Arlette Ricci, 73, French heir to the Nina Ricci perfume business, who earlier this year was sentenced in Paris to a year in jail and fined €1 million for tax fraud and money laundering.

Ricci, 73, has appealed the sentence.

Spanish banker Emilio Bottin, meanwhile, was ordered by Spanish tax authorities to pay €299 million based on information provided by Falciani. 

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