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Swiss charge ex-HSBC worker with industrial espionage

Falciani's data has provided the basis of criminal investigations against Swiss banks in several countries Keystone

The Swiss authorities have charged a former computer analyst at HSBC’s private bank in Geneva with industrial espionage and breaching the country’s secrecy laws for passing confidential client data to foreign authorities.

Hervé Falciani gave prosecutors in France and Spain data on thousands of Swiss bank accounts. He has previously said he is a whistleblower trying to help governments track down citizens who used accounts in Switzerland to evade paying tax.

But on Thursday the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office saidExternal link Falciani, who now lives in France, had tried to profit from the data. It accused him of trying to sell the information to banks in Lebanon.

The charges, lodged at the federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona on Thursday, allege  industrial espionage, unauthorised obtaining of data, breach of trade secrecy and violating banking secrecy.

“Sometimes celebrated as a hero abroad, the Franco-Italian national is now to answer for his alleged crimes before a Swiss court. The Swiss Criminal Procedure Code does not exclude the possibility of holding a court trial of the accused person in absentia,” the office said in a statement.

Foreign charges

The federal prosecutor said that HSBC and several bank customers were also taking part in the proceedings as private claimants.

Falciani was not immediately available to comment. His former employer, HSBC, declined to comment.

HSBC has previously disputed various aspects of Falciani’s story, from his contention that he is a whistleblower – the bank contends he tried to sell the data he absconded with and only cooperated with prosecutors when he was arrested in Spain to face extradition charges.

HSBC has also denied any role in helping clients avoid taxes.

The list of HSBC clients supplied by Falciani has prompted investigations across the globe. Last month, Argentina charged HSBC with helping more than 4,000 clients evade taxes via secret Swiss bank accounts and a Belgian judge charged HSBC’s Swiss private bank with tax fraud and money laundering.

French prosecutors are also probing whether HSBC offered illicit products to help French clients avoid tax.

Absconded at Christmas

Monaco-born Falciani, who has French and Italian citizenship, collected data on HSBC account holders when he worked in its information technology department from 2006 to 2008.  

He is accused of trying to sell that data in Lebanon, using a false name, together with an accomplice. Switzerland opened criminal proceedings against both suspects in May 2008, and Falciani’s real identity was discovered in December of that year.

The Swiss Prosecutor’s Office revealed that Falciani absconded to France after a day of questioning by Swiss police and, after allegedly saying he would return to Switzerland after Christmas, failed to live up to that promise.

An international arrest warrant was issued the next year and Falciani was eventually arrested in Spain in 2012. But a Spanish court rejected a Swiss extradition application in 2013.

In September of this year, Swiss prosecutor’s abandoned criminal investigations into Falciani’s Franco-Lebanese accomplice, who also worked at HSBC Switzerland, after finding that her role in the alleged crimes “turned out to be marginal”.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR