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Spain opposes return of Swiss bank data thief

A Spanish prosecutor on Monday opposed the extradition of a former HSBC employee to Switzerland, where he is wanted for stealing banking data that exposed thousands of suspected tax dodgers.

Spain opposes return of Swiss bank data thief
Hervé Falciani, former employee of HSBC Private Bank in Geneva, attends court hearing near Madrid on Monday. Photo: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/Pool/AFP

Swiss authorities want Hervé Falciani, a French-Italian citizen arrested in Barcelona in July 2012 and then granted conditional release, sent back to Switzerland to face charges of breaching banking secrecy.
   
But during his extradition hearing Spanish prosecutor Dolores Delgado 
opposed the request on the grounds that the former computer engineer at the banking giant in Geneva was helping authorities investigate tax fraud.
   
"Falciani has cooperated with the authorities of various countries, 
starting with France, then Italy, the United states, and now Spain is benefiting from this cooperation," she told the Madrid court hearing the case.
 
"We can't punish people who, when they observe criminal conduct where they 
work, denounce it to the authorities," she said, adding that the total fraud unveiled amounted to 200 billion euros ($260 billion).
   
Falciani, who wore a grey suit and black tie, told the court he had received 
no remuneration for providing the data to France and other governments.
   
"Never, in no instance," the whistleblower said when asked if he had 
received any money for turning over the files — data linked to at least 24,000 customers of the bank's  Geneva subsidiary — to the French authorities.
   
The files, which were subsequently relayed by French investigators to their 
counterparts in the United States, Spain, Italy and several other European Union countries, led to a raft of prosecutions.
   
He told the court he obtained the files from colleagues and said the 
information was so abundant that "if printed, it would fill an entire freight train."
   
Falciani said he informed Swiss authorities in 2008 but they refused to let 
him make an anonymous complaint.

He said he then sent the files to French authorities.

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HSBC

Paris court confirms tax fraud charges against HSBC

The Paris appeals court on Monday confirmed charges against British banking giant HSBC Holdings PLC as part of a tax fraud probe involving its Swiss unit, sources close to the case told AFP.

Paris court confirms tax fraud charges against HSBC
Photo: AFP

The court rejected an appeal by HSBC that charges first brought in April for facilitating tax fraud and illegal practices be dropped.
   
Investigating magistrates accuse HSBC of failing in its supervisory role over its Geneva-based unit HSBC Private Bank which is suspected of having set up tax fraud schemes for its customers, mostly French.
   
“We are disappointed by the outcome of the appeals procedure,” HSBC said in a statement.

“We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”
   
HSBC Private Banking is suspected of offering its customers several ways of hiding assets from the French taxman, notably via the use of offshore tax havens.
   
The case began when French authorities in late 2008 received files stolen by Hervé Falciani, a former HSBC employee in Geneva whose disclosures uncorked the so-called “Swissleaks” scandal on bank-supported tax evasion. €

He was sentenced in absentia in November in Switzerland to five years in prison.
   
The 43-year-old French-Italian national — dubbed by some media as “The Edward Snowden of banking” — leaked a cache of documents allegedly indicating the bank's Swiss private banking arm helped more than 120,000 clients hide €180.6 billion ($205.4 billion) from tax authorities from November 2006 to March 2007.

The leaked files led to investigations by tax authorities in several European countries, including Spain and Belgium besides France.
   
French judges have conducted other investigations into tax fraud, including into UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, which was fined a record €1.1 billion in 2014.

 

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