A former HSBC employee accused of stealing data on up to 24,000 secret Swiss accounts from the British lender and handing them to the French tax authorities has been arrested in Spain on a request by Swiss authorities seeking his extradition.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Justice Office confirmed a French media report on Tuesday that Hervé Falciani, a former HSBC computer specialist of dual Italian and French nationality, was arrested in Spain three weeks ago.
"The Swiss representation in Madrid deposited a formal extradition request with Spanish justice authorities on July 5," said Ingrid Ryser. "It's now up to Spanish authorities to decide."
Spain's justice ministry confirmed receiving the extradition petition, which goes to the cabinet within 40 days.
“As Mr. Falciani is not a Spanish citizen, the Spanish authorities will decide to extradite him or not based on a European convention,” added Ryser. Both Spain and Switzerland are signatories of the convention.
The Swiss allege Falciani passed confidential data he took from HSBC in Geneva to French tax authorities, breaching Swiss banking secrecy laws, before absconding to France.
An international warrant for his arrest was issued by the Swiss in August 2010, a warrant ignored by the French as they do not extradite their own citizens.
In 2009, Falciani said he leaked the data to French authorities, telling France 2 television the action was his civic duty.
"If you discover that ... offshore structures have no other aim than to avoid taxation and that the sole legitimacy of these structures is that purpose, what would you do?" he said. "You either play ostrich or you try to find out."
The theft triggered a brief spat between Switzerland and France when the French authorities announced they would use the data to probe suspected evasion by French taxpayers with secret Swiss accounts.
However Paris and Bern reached a deal to resolve the row. As part of an agreement to move forward on a double taxation accord, France said it would not request administrative assistance in obtaining information about suspected tax evaders whose details were contained in the stolen data, and it agreed to provide Switzerland with copies.
Strict secrecy rules, which have helped Switzerland build up a $2 trillion (SFr2 trillion) offshore banking sector, have come under pressure as governments around the world look to clamp down on tax avoidance in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Earlier this month, German tax authorities launched raids into Credit Suisse clients, some of whose names were culled from data stolen by an informant.
Former Julius Bär banker Rudolf Elmer, who helped bring the WikiLeaks website to prominence three years ago when he used it to publish client details to expose tax evasion, was found guilty in 2011 of breaching Swiss bank secrecy but was only sentenced to a minimal suspended fine.
swissinfo.ch and agencies