HSBC whistleblower to avoid Swiss hearing

Herve Falciani, whose data leak spawned global investigations into how HSBC Holdings allegedly helped clients avoid taxes, won’t appear in person to defend himself against charges of violating bank secrecy laws and risk arrest.

HSBC whistleblower to avoid Swiss hearing

The former IT worker, 43, will be represented by lawyer Marc Henzelin at the October 12 hearing at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, where he also faces charges of industrial espionage.

“He called me and sent me an email saying clearly he will not attend the trial because he does not trust the Swiss justice system in this particular case,” Geneva-based Henzelin said.

The Swiss criminal code does not exclude the possibility of trying an accused person in absentia, the country’s attorney general’s office said in December.

Henzelin said he did not know his client’s exact whereabouts.

Falciani is scheduled to appear at an October 28 journalism conference in Divonne-les-Bains, a French town that sits on the border with Switzerland. France does not extradite its own citizens.

A February report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists based on the data Falciani removed from HSBC’s Geneva offices in 2008 revealed how the London-based bank allegedly helped convicted drug dealers, arms sellers, and other criminals evade taxes and launder money.

The revelations triggered a UK Parliamentary inquiry into HSBC’s alleged wrongdoing and a probe by Geneva prosecutors.

HSBC struck a deal in June that allowed the bank to pay a 40m Swiss franc (€37m) penalty for “past organisational deficiencies” to close the Geneva probe and avoid criminal charges.

The leniency shown to HSBC was wrong and may be used to defend Falciani, Henzelin said.

“What may look shocking is that the difference in treatment of HSBC which just had to pay for a ‘contribution’ to the state but was cleared of any penalty, and Falciani who is prosecuted,” he said.

“The imbalance between HSBC’s fate and what lies ahead for Falciani may help us.”

Patrick Humphris, a spokesman for HSBC’s private bank, declined to comment on the case. The British bank is an aggrieved party in the Bellinzona case, Mascia Gregori Al-Barafi, a spokeswoman for the court said.

HSBC was charged in France last year with money laundering through tax fraud and illegal marketing in a case stemming from the data theft.

The bank faced a similar investigation in Belgium and last year agreed to pay $12.5m to settle claims with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that HSBC Suisse solicited US investors without being registered.

Falciani has denied allegations made by HSBC and Swiss prosecutors that he tried to sell the data to banks in Lebanon before he handed it to the French government.

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