February 19, 2015

Whistleblower Spotlight – HSBC Whistleblower Hervé Falciani

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

This week’s “Whistleblower Spotlight” shines on HSBC whistleblower Hervé Falciani. Mr. Falciani blew the whistle in 2006 on HSBC Private Bank in Switzerland allegedly helping its wealthy customers avoid taxes and hide millions of dollars.  He has been on the run from Swiss authorities since 2008, after they accused him of stealing data and violating bank secrecy laws by coming forward with his information.  But European tax authorities in other countries have been more than happy to make use of the data, using it to recover over $1 billion in back taxes.

Mr. Falciani started working for HSBC in Geneva in 2006 during which he says he discovered HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy people evade taxes.  He said he went to Swiss authorities with his information in 2006, but alleges they did not want to work with him because, for his safety and the safety of his family, he wanted to remain anonymous.  Then in 2008, Swiss police handcuffed him for allegedly stealing data and allegedly trying to sell to other banks.  They seized his computer, searched his home and interrogated him.  They let him go on the condition that he return the next day for additional questioning.  Instead, he rented a car, picked up his wife and daughter and drove directly to France.  He downloaded data he had stored on remote servers and passed the information along to French tax authorities.  The information also made its way to Spain and the U.K.

Mr. Falciani’s files were also the basis of last week media reports about the scale of the tax avoidance operation at HSBC.  The claims were published by various newspapers, including the Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde and others.  After the media storm, HSBC admitted it was “accountable for past control failures,” but said it had now “fundamentally changed.”  And, in a change of tune, Swiss police raided the offices of HSBC’s Geneva branch yesterday in their investigation into HSBC and “persons unknown for suspected aggravated money laundering.”

As for Mr. Falciani, Swiss authorities indicted him in December 2014 for violating the country’s bank secrecy laws and for industrial espionage.  This week he said he was willing to return to Switzerland to stand trial if he was given assurances that he would not face immediate arrest.  He said, “I hope to have the possibility of a right of safe passage first to attend my trial, I am not trying to dodge my responsibility.” He added, “I’m not a white knight, but there is something beautiful and exhilarating about establishing the truth.  It carries you through the bad times.”

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