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Swiss charge ex-HSBC staffer with industrial espionage


(Reuters) — Switzerland has charged a former computer analyst at HSBC’s private bank in Geneva with industrial espionage and breaching the country’s secrecy laws for passing confidential client data to foreign authorities.

Herve Falciani gave prosecutors in France and Spain data on thousands of Swiss bank accounts. He has previously told Reuters that he is a whistleblower trying to help governments track down citizens who used accounts in Switzerland to evade paying tax.

But Switzerland’s attorney general, which did not identify Mr. Falciani by name, said on Thursday the former IT analyst had tried to profit from the data. It accused him of trying to sell the information to banks in Lebanon.

“Sometimes celebrated as a hero abroad, the Franco-Italian national is now to answer for his alleged crimes before a Swiss court. The Swiss Criminal Procedure Code does not exclude the possibility of holding a court trial of the accused person in absentia,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The attorney general said HSBC and several bank customers were also taking part in the proceedings as private claimants.

Efforts to contact Mr. Falciani through his lawyer in France were unsuccessful.

In an interview with French newspaper La Croix published on Tuesday, Mr. Falciani hinted at the justice probe.

“The struggle against corruption has caused me a lot of trouble. I have also won the satisfaction of accomplishing, along with others, my duty as a citizen.”

His former employer, HSBC, declined to comment.

Whistleblowers in Switzerland, where breaking secrecy law is punishable by jail, have typically been pursued aggressively by Swiss prosecutors.

HSBC has previously disputed various aspects of Mr. Falciani’s story, including his contention that he is a whistleblower — the bank contends he tried to sell the data he absconded with and only cooperated with prosecutors when he was arrested in Spain to face extradition charges.

HSBC has also denied any role in helping clients avoid taxes.

The list of HSBC clients supplied by Mr. Falciani has prompted investigations across the globe. Last month, Argentina charged HSBC with helping more than 4,000 clients evade taxes via secret Swiss bank accounts, and a Belgian judge charged HSBC’s Swiss private bank with tax fraud and money laundering.

French prosecutors are also probing whether HSBC offered illicit products to help French clients avoid tax.

Monaco-born Mr. Falciani, who has French and Italian citizenship, collected data on HSBC account holders when he worked in its information technology department from 2006 to 2008.

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