Swiss bank whistleblower arrested in Spain

Hervé Falciani exposed tax evasion and money laundering by users of Swiss banking system

Hervé Falciani, the whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss private bank.  Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Hervé Falciani, the whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss private bank. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

Hervé Falciani, the whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss private bank, is facing extradition from Spain to Switzerland after he was arrested in Madrid this week.

Spain’s High Court released Mr Falciani from custody on Thursday but ordered him to remain in Spain while it considers an extradition request from Switzerland.

Mr Falciani, an IT specialist, fled from Switzerland to France in 2008 with a list of 130,000 names of organisations and individuals who were using the Swiss banking system to launder money and evade taxes . The leak was dubbed the biggest in banking history.

The Swiss first issued an international warrant for his arrest in 2009. France, however, instead of extraditing him and returning the stolen data, used his list to prosecute tax evaders.

Mr Falciani later fled to Spain and in 2013 Spain’s national court rejected a Swiss extradition request on the grounds that the charge of violating bank secrecy is not an offence in Spain if the secrecy is used as a cover for serious offences.

He is now before the same Spanish court that acquitted him on the same charges nearly five years ago; it remains to be seen what new argument will be presented that might reverse the earlier decision.

Since 2013, Mr Falciani has lived mostly in Spain under a high security programme sponsored by the United Nations. In November 2015, a Swiss court sentenced Mr Falciani in absentia to five years imprisonment for financial espionage and data theft. Switzerland now wants to extradite him to serve his sentence.

‘Scandal’

For its part, Spain is keen to secure the extradition from Switzerland of two leaders of the Catalan independence movement. Marta Rovira, secretary general of the Republican Left party, and Anna Gabriel, a prominent member of the radical Popular Unity Candidacy, are currently taking refuge in Geneva.

Until now, Swiss authorities have been reluctant to comply with the Spanish request. The arrest of Mr Falciani is widely seen in Spain as a favour to the Swiss, in the hope that it will be returned in kind.

The arrest order for Mr Falciani was issued on March 19th, four days before Ms Rovira fled to Switzerland, but several weeks after Ms Gabriel sought refuge there.

Mr Falciani was arrested on Wednesday as he was about to give a talk at a Madrid university entitled: “When telling the truth is heroic.”

To many people Mr Falciani is a hero, a Robin Hood figure who didn’t seek to benefit from the information he had, which he freely shared with the authorities in France, Spain and other countries.

Ada Colau, Barcelona’s mayor, described Mr Falciani’s arrest and possible extradition as a “scandal”.

“He is a key figure in the fight against corruption who worked with the Spanish authorities to prosecute tax fraud,” she said. “He also advised Barcelona city council on how to improve transparency.”

Spanish tax authorities recovered some €300 million in unpaid tax from some of the 637 Spaniards who appeared on Mr Falciani’s list. – Guardian