(Bloomberg) -- A former UBS Group AG employee charged with stealing data on the bank’s clients and selling it to German tax authorities failed to appear in court for a second day, forcing a Swiss judge to start the criminal trial without him.
The presiding judge at Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court said attempts by police to locate the man through his wife were unsuccessful. The judge then called UBS employees to testify.
The fugitive, whom Bloomberg is only identifying as Rene S., is charged with commercial espionage, violation of Swiss banking secrecy and money-laundering. He’s also charged with possession of illegal ammunition after police found hollow-point bullets during a 2013 raid on his home.
Moritz Gall, his lawyer, said before the hearing that he has no information on his client’s whereabouts.
The case is at least the second in recent years in which an accused bank employee has thumbed his nose at Swiss prosecutors seeking a conviction for the alleged theft and leaking of client data to foreign tax authorities. According to Swiss law, anyone convicted of divulging bank client secrets can serve as much as five years in prison.
Herve Falciani, a former IT specialist at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Geneva unit accused of trying to sell client data, didn’t show up for his trial at the same court in late 2015. The Italian-French citizen was nevertheless convicted of corporate espionage by the court. Falciani, who later shared the data with French tax authorities, claimed he took the data to prove that HSBC’s private banking unit was helping foreign clients evade taxes.
Hundreds of Clients
Rene S. is suspected of stealing details on more than 200 clients -- including over 30 family foundations --- and then selling the data to German officials, pocketing 1.15 million euros ($1.3 million) in the process.
In 2010, while working for UBS’s trust and foundations department in Basel, prosecutors say the Swiss citizen took the data. The information led German authorities to search the homes of at least 233 UBS customers in the country, the indictment says.
But the prosecutor’s allegation that information about the foundations and their beneficial owners could only be obtained through the bank’s internal systems is untrue, Gall said. Additionally, the assertion of an external asset manager that the theft was committed by a computer technician was never pursued by either UBS or federal prosecutors, according to Gall.
Patricia Kunkel, Rene S.’s supervisor, was the first witness on Tuesday afternoon and the presiding judges spent more than half an hour asking detailed questions about how the bank’s SAFI and PRI systems worked.
But later the questions turned to his character.
“He was a nice guy and didn’t like confrontations, preferring just to say ‘everything’s ok,”’ Kunkel said. She said she had confidence in him initially, but towards the end of his time at the bank, “he showed little enthusiasm for the work, arriving late and leaving early,” leaving her with doubts.
Gabriela Lenz, a UBS human resources specialist, was asked by Gall how the bank could be so sure that Rene S. was the perpetrator, and she responded that it was a matter of process of elimination.
“We concluded that no other person had access to all the systems that could have done this,” Lenz said.
UBS, based in Zurich, has been under concerted pressure from German and French tax authorities in recent years. The Swiss Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on whether UBS must hand over data on French clients that the French tax office had first requested in 2012. The French made their petition based on information from German authorities, who had seized data as part of their own tax probe, and a series of data leaks from within Swiss banks.
A spokeswoman for UBS, which isn’t a party to the case, declined to comment.
The trial at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court had originally been expected to run for three days, with a verdict scheduled for Jan. 21.
(Adds witness comments starting in ninth paragraph.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Geneva at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com, Peter Chapman
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.