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Spain rejects extraditing HSBC whistle-blower Herve Falciani to Switzerland

Swiss courts sentenced Herve Falciani in absentia to five years in jail for leaking details of HSBC clients, many of whom he said he suspected were evading tax

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 6:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 9:28pm

A Spanish court ruled on Tuesday against extraditing Herve Falciani, a former HSBC analyst who leaked documents alleging widespread tax evasion, to Switzerland.

The National Court said in a statement that it had already rejected his extradition in a previous case in 2013, adding there is no equivalent in Spanish law of the crime of “aggravated financial espionage” for which he was convicted in Switzerland.

The court argued that the crime “differs substantially” with Spanish offences that can be considered the most similar, such as “disclosure of secrets”.

“The Spanish Criminal Code does not include any charge similar to the crime of ‘aggravated financial espionage’ for which the Swiss justice had sentenced Falciani to a five-year prison sentence,” the court said.

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice, which lodged the extradition request, said it does not comment on court rulings.

Falciani was arrested in Madrid in April on his way to a conference on the need to protect whistle-blowers and released on bail.

Spain’s High Court released him from custody the next day but ordered him to remain in Spain while the extradition request was considered

HSBC whistle-blower asks Spain to deny Swiss extradition bid

He had been convicted in absentia of financial espionage in Switzerland in 2015 for the scandal that became known as “Swiss Leaks”.

After a Swiss court handed him the five-year jail sentence, the 46-year-old has avoided visiting Switzerland.

The Franco-Italian national worked for the Swiss branch of HSBC and became known as the “the man who terrifies the rich” after leaking information in 2008 that alleged HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped 79,000 clients evade billions of euros in taxes.

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

There, he obtained access to encrypted customer information.

In 2008, he went to Lebanon with the information planning to sell the data, without success. Swiss authorities described it as “cashing in”.

HSBC leaker Herve Falciani set free after being detained in Spain at the request of Switzerland

He then returned to Switzerland where he was under investigation and ended up leaving for France, where he passed on the pilfered information to tax authorities.

France, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Argentina launched investigations based on the information leaked by Falciani, but Swiss authorities insist the data was stolen and therefore legally inadmissible.

The information led to the prosecution of tax evaders including Arlette Ricci, heir to France’s Nina Ricci perfume empire, and the pursuit of Emilio Botin, the late chairman of the Spanish bank Santander.

Since then, he has become known as the “Snowden of tax evasion”, in reference to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed the scope of the US government’s electronic surveillance programme.

Falciani had already been arrested in Barcelona in July 2012 on an international warrant issued by Switzerland.

He then spent several months in a Spanish prison.

But in 2013, the National Court ended up refusing his extradition on the grounds that the charges he faced in Switzerland are not considered crimes under Spanish law.

Falciani has called for laws to shield whistle-blowers like himself from prosecution, arguing they should be part of a country’s effort to protect its economy.

“We should look up to [the US and Britain] because they protect better the rights of those who report crimes overseas,” he said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters