Swiss bank data ‘thief’ warned of death threat

A former HSBC employee fighting extradition to Switzerland for allegedly stealing banking data that exposed thousands of suspected tax dodgers says US officials advised him to flee to Spain because his life was at risk.

Swiss bank data 'thief' warned of death threat
Hervé Falciani at recent court hearing near Madrid. Photo: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/Pool/AFP

Hervé Falciani, a 40-year-old French-Italian citizen, was arrested in Barcelona in July 2012 after he arrived by boat from the port of Sète in France.

He was apprehended under an international warrant seeking his extradition to Switzerland, where he is wanted for violating banking secrecy laws.
He collected data on at least 24,000 customers of HSBC's Swiss subsidiaries 
from 2006 to 2008 while he worked in the bank's information technology development unit in Geneva.

He then passed on the information to 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.
Falciano told daily newspaper El Pais that about a month before he fled to 
Spain, US justice officials who he was collaborating with from Paris warned him that his life was at risk.
"The United States warned me that it would be easy for someone to pay to 
try to kill me," he said, according to a report published on Sunday.

"I had to plan my escape carefully," Falciano said.

"I chose Spain knowing that I would go to jail and that Switzerland would ask for my extradition," he said.
"I had two options: start a new life in the United States or travel 
somewhere else to gain time," Falciano said.

"They told me that the only safe place in Europe would be Spain, which had used my information with success in important cases.

"They thought it would be very unlikely that Spain would approve my extradition to Switzerland."

Spanish prosecutors opposed Falciani's extradition to Switzerland during his court hearing on April 15th in Madrid.

The court is expected to give its decision in the coming weeks.
Falciani told the court in Madrid last week his intention was to raise the 
alarm about what was going on at the bank and denied he sought to sell the information as alleged by Swiss officials.
In December, Spain's High Court ordered Falciani's release from jail pending 
his extradition hearing after the Spanish authorities argued Falciani was cooperating with authorities in several European countries in investigations into tax evasion, money-laundering, corruption and terrorism financing.

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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.