Herve Falciani gets five year jail term over biggest leak in banking history
Herve Falciani, a former employee of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Geneva unit, was found guilty of financial espionage and sentenced in absentia to five years in prison by a Swiss federal court.
HSBC said it welcomed the ruling on Falciani, a 43-year old French citizen who had been on trial in Switzerland.
Falciani came to limelight when he leaked details of bank account holders in Geneva branch of HSBC – a list which later reached the French government and subsequently was shared with India, as it had accounts of those Indians who had secretly stored funds abroad. He then fled Geneva with the files that were leaked to the media that allegedly revealed that HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm aided over one lakh clients to evade taxes worth more than USD 200 billion.
The case has pitted supporters of Falciani, who claim he took the data to prove that HSBC’s Geneva private banking unit was helping foreign clients evade taxes, against the bank and federal prosecutors, which said the Frenchman declared himself a whistle-blower only after he failed to sell the data. “He’s a thief and a liar,” Laurent Moreillon, HSBC’s lawyer, told reporters after the hearing.
Falciani’s argument that he was a whistle-blower was “pure invention and is a lesson to anyone who might try the same thing,” he said.
HSBC said that the bank had always “maintained that Falciani systematically stole clients’ information in order to sell it for his own personal financial gain”.
Falciani has denied he was only seeking financial gain, insisting he had wanted to expose how banks support tax evasion and money laundering.
He had earlier this month said that he was willing to “cooperate” with the Indian investigative agencies in their black money probe but would need “protection”.
About the sentencing, Falciani told Indian television channel NDTV that nothing has changed and it should not affect his collaboration with Indian authorities. He also told the channel that he would make an appeal to European Human Rights Court.
HSBC was fined £28m by the Geneva authorities this year, after investigators concluded that “organisational deficiencies” had allowed money laundering to take place at its Swiss subsidiary. Meanwhile, HSBC has announced it would be shutting down its private banking business in India that provides wealth management services.
While addressing media persons Falciani said money was not the driving force for sharing classified data on black money and other suspect accounts.
“We are not protected… If I am coming to India, I will be arrested,” he had said, adding that people need to understand that there are not many new ways to probe and fight the menace of black money.
His claims that “lot of information” on illicit funds is lying unused by Indian authorities were rejected by the Indian government.
Falciani, who is based in France, did not attend his trial and stayed out of Switzerland while it was going on.
He can appeal his conviction at Switzerland’s highest court, but he will not serve any prison time in the federation so long as he remains in France, which does not extradite its citizens.