Spain has ruled against extraditing a former HSBC employee to Switzerland, where he faces charges of stealing client banking data subsequently used by a number of European countries to pursue suspected tax evaders.
A statement issued by the National Court on Wednesday said that it rejected the charges the Swiss authorities are seeking to bring against Hervé Falciani. The IT specialist is wanted for allegedly stealing information between 2006 and 2007 relating to 24,000 customers of the Swiss division of HSBC.
Falciani has acknowledged taking the data but describes himself as a whistleblower against what he calls “scandalous” practices at Swiss banks.
In a ruling published on Wednesday, Spain’s High Court said the charges Falciani faces in Switzerland are not considered crimes under Spanish law.
A spokesman for the Swiss justice ministry said the ministry had learned of the Spanish court’s decision in the media but declined to comment on the ruling.
The Italian-French citizen was arrested in July 2012 on an international warrant after he left France by sea and tried to enter Spain through the northeastern port of Barcelona. Falciani was held in custody until December, when he was given a conditional release pending an extradition hearing.
Details of the HSBC accounts were sent to France's former finance minister, Christine Lagarde – now head of the International Monetary Fund – who passed them on to other governments, exposing many clients to prosecution for tax evasion.
In an interview published in the Spanish El País newspaper last month, Falciani claimed United States officials warned him he was in danger and advised him to travel to Spain.
The 40-year-old is quoted as saying that he was cooperating with US Justice Department officials when he was told to head for Spain.
"They told me that from that moment my life was at risk," he said. "They told me the only safe place in Europe was Spain."
The Spanish court heard that Spain had used Falciani’s data, received from France, to pursue more than 600 suspected tax evaders and collect €250 million in levies.
swissinfo.ch and agencies