Herve Falciani, a French computer expert who revealed more than 100,000 records that showed potential financial crimes at a Swiss branch of HSBC where he was working, asked a Spanish court not to extradite him to Switzerland to face charges of economic espionage.
He argued that blowing the whistle had led to dozens of judicial tax evasion probes worldwide of people hiding their accounts and income.
In support, Spanish prosecutor Teresa Sandoval said the data extraction from the bank’s servers can’t be used against him in court because Falciani didn’t release the records to individuals but to judicial and tax authorities.
He faces a five-year prison sentence for breaching Switzerland’s coveted banking secrecy laws that critics said are used by foreign account holders to evade taxes in their own countries.
The Geneva branch of HSBC was used by nearly 2,000 Greeks to hide some $1.5 billion in income and a leaked copy was given to Greek authorities by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is one of Greece’s international lenders but she was not charged with any crime.
Falciani appeared before judges at Spain’s National Court to avoid being extradited to Switzerland to serve a five-year prison sentence for breaching the banking secrecy laws there.
In 2008, Falciani disclosed more than 100,000 records on accounts worth $100 billion belonging to prominent clients of the Geneva-based bank. The former HSBC employee said data he shared with French and other authorities led to probes in 28 countries, including cases investigated by the National Court in Spain. The same court is now set to decide in the coming days on the whistleblower’s extradition.
His lawyers and the state prosecutor told judges that Falciani should not be sent to Switzerland because an earlier extradition request was already rejected in 2013 on grounds that violating banking secrecy was not a crime in Spain.
Tried by Switzerland in absentia, Falciani was found guilty in 2015 of obtaining data illegally and of breaching bank secrecy laws. His five-year prison sentence was made final two years ago.
Falciani was arrested again in Spain — where he had relocated in 2012 — in April, in a renewed effort by Switzerland to make him serve his prison time.
Falciani, 46, also spoke at the hearing, highlighting his cooperation with anti-corruption prosecutors in Spain. He said that being free over the past five years had allowed him to help France recover millions of euros in fines and Belgian authorities open a massive probe into the diamond market.
He also told reporters that laws shielding whistleblowers from prosecution should be part of a country’s effort to protect the economy because “information ensures consequences for tax-related crimes.”
He added that European nations including Spain should learn from Britain and the United States.
“We should look up to these countries because they protect better the rights of those who report crimes overseas,” he said.