Business Week reports that on February 1, 2008, a man and a woman boarded a plane in Geneva and flew to Beirut. Over the next week, they visited managers at four Lebanese banks. The man, who identified himself as a Lebanese national named Ruben El Chidiak, told the bankers that he ran a consulting firm and had valuable information to sell.
In fact, his name was Hervé Falciani, and he was a systems engineer at the Geneva-based private banking unit of HSBC. The bank would determine later that he had carried out one of the biggest security breaches in Swiss banking history, obtaining details on the accounts of some 24,000 HSBC private-banking clients.
The account data later was passed along to tax authorities in European countries—including France, Spain, and the U.K.—who have used it to collect more than $1.34bn in back taxes. Falciani says the data has also provided leads for ongoing investigations of corruption, money laundering, and terrorist financing. The Geneva bank provided an 'open door' for such illicit activity, Falciani told a Spanish court earlier this year.
Falciani, 41, fled Geneva at the end of 2008 and since then has hopscotched around Europe. Swiss prosecutors have accused him of data theft, a charge that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. Spain refused to extradite him after a hearing in April at which a government prosecutor praised him as a whistleblower. He moved this summer to France, where he has testified behind closed doors to parliamentary committees.
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image: © Steven Depolo