HSBC whistle-blower skips his Swiss trial as expected

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 11:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 11:56pm
AFP

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The Swiss trial of a former HSBC employee who leaked documents alleging the bank helped clients evade millions of dollars in taxes opened on Monday, but in his absence it was immediately adjourned.

Herve Falciani, the 43-year-old French-Italian national who exposed the so-called Swissleaks scandal, had said he would not go to Switzerland for the trial, and on the first day the prosecutor opened the case by requesting an adjournment.

Prosecutor Carlo Bulletti stressed to the federal court in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona the need for the man of the hour to be present to explain and defend himself, the ATS news agency reported.

The court followed the recommendation, postponing the proceedings until November 2.

Falciani, had told media several weeks ago he would not travel to attend the hearings in Switzerland, where he would risk immediate arrest, because he doubted the Swiss trial would be fair.

Falciani leaked a cache of documents indicating that HSBC's Swiss private banking arm helped more than 120,000 clients hide €180.6 billion (HK$1.6 trillion) from tax authorities.

While Falciani is widely viewed as a whistle-blower and hailed as a hero in countries where his leaked information is helping net tax cheats, Swiss authorities are prosecuting him for data theft, industrial espionage, and violating the country's long-cherished banking secrecy laws.

"Do I have the right to a just and fair trial? Maybe, but can one really call this a trial?" Falciani told the Swiss business weekly HandelsZeitung last week.

Falciani became an IT worker for HSBC in 2000 and moved to the bank's offices in Geneva in 2006.

The so-called Snowden of tax evasion and "the man who terrifies the rich" obtained access to a massive database of encrypted customer information.

In 2007 Falciani took the names of over 120,000 clients and by 2008 headed for Lebanon with his mistress and a plan to sell the data. Swiss authorities described it as "cashing in".

Yet suspicious bankers in Lebanon were not interested in buying the dubiously sourced client list, and at least one instead tipped off counterparts in Switzerland to Falciani's activities.

After his plan to sell the data fell apart, Falciani got in contact with European tax authorities and began passing them the pilfered information, which prompted numerous tax evasion audits.

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