Hervé Falciani, the whistleblower responsible for the biggest leak in banking history, which exposed wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss private bank, has been sentenced to five years in prison by a Swiss court.
The former IT worker is currently living in France, where he sought refuge from Swiss justice, and did not attend the trial.
Switzerland’s federal criminal court found Falciani guilty of financial espionage on Friday, but he was acquitted of other charges, including that of violating commercial secrecy.
While working on the database of HSBC’s Swiss private bank, Falciani downloaded the details of around 130,000 holders of secret Swiss accounts. The information was handed to French investigators in December 2008, and then circulated to other European governments.
It was used to prosecute tax evaders including Arlette Ricci, heir to France’s Nina Ricci perfume empire, and to pursue Emilio Botín, the late chairman of Spain’s Santander bank.
HSBC was fined £28m by the Geneva authorities earlier this year, after investigators concluded that “organisational deficiencies” had allowed money laundering to take place at its Swiss subsidiary.
French magistrates are conducting a criminal investigation into the bank, alleging a “complicity in aggravated money laundering and financial fraud”. HSBC has been ordered to post bail of €100m.
Switzerland’s federal prosecutor had requested a record six-year term for Falciani for aggravated financial espionage, data theft and violation of commercial and banking secrecy.
It was the longest sentence ever demanded by the confederation’s public ministry in a case of banking data theft. The trial was also the first conducted by the country’s federal criminal court in which the accused had not been present.
The defendant’s lawyers had demanded a reduced sentence, of between two and three years, “compatible with the granting of a reprieve”.
Falciani himself refused to appear in the dock, on the grounds that he would not be allowed a fair trial. He described the process as a “parody of justice”.
Carlo Bulletti, for the prosecution, rejected the notion of Falciani as a whistleblower. His actions, including approaches to banks in Lebanon, suggested he had wanted to sell the stolen data.
HSBC’s lawyer, Laurent Moreillon, said that when copying the data, Falciani had given a series of different reasons: that he wanted to “conduct a simple test”, that he was using ficititous data, and that he wanted to test the bank’s data security. But Falciani had never alerted anyone inside the bank to any security failings.
“Greedy - he was and continues to be,” claimed Moreillon.
Falciani’s lawyer, Marc Henzelin, said that in this case, “Swiss justice itself was on trial”. His client had never denied stealing the data, and had worked openly with the french, german, british, spanish, indian and now argentine authorities.
A french parliamentary report had found that of 2325 french taxpayers with accounts at HSBC in Switzerland, just three were had their affairs in order. Turning to HSBC’s lawyer, he said: “What damage are you claiming? The fact taht your clients should have paid their taxes?”.
As a holder of both Italian and French nationality, Falciani cannot be extradited to Switzerland by either of those countries and is therefore unlikely to ever serve his sentence.
This article was written by Juliette Garside, for theguardian.com on Friday 27th November 2015 14.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010