Swissleaks trial starts without whistleblower

HERVE Falciani, a 43-year-old French-Italian national who exposed the so-called Swissleaks scandal, has repeatedly said he would not travel to Switzerland for the trial, and failed to show for his initial court date last month, so his absence did not come as a surprise.

“I am not going,” he said in Divonne, France, a stone’s throw from the border with Switzerland, last week, questioning the possibility of a fair trial.

The trial in the federal court in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona will continue in his absence.

As a Frenchman living in France, Mr Falciani cannot be extradited to Switzerland.

The first witnesses are due to be called to the stand on Tuesday , starting with the police officers who investigated Mr Falciani’s case and current and former employees of HSBC’s Geneva branch.

One of his former girlfriends, who lives in Lebanon, also appears on the witness list, although it is not clear whether she would show up.

Mr Falciani leaked a cache of documents that allegedly indicated that HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm had helped more than 120,000 of its clients to hide € 180.6 bn from the tax authorities.

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

The so-called “Snowden of tax evasion” and “the man who terrifies the rich” obtained access to a massive database of encrypted customer information, which was passed on to European financial authorities.

While he is viewed as a whistleblower and a hero in countries in which his leaked information is helping to net tax cheats, the Swiss authorities are intent on prosecuting him.

Mr Falciani has accused HSBC of pressuring Swiss authorities to move forward with the case against him.

Prosecutors in Geneva closed their investigation into HSBC’s alleged wrongdoings in June after the bank had agreed to pay tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

Geneva lead prosecutor Yves Bertossa said at the time it was “difficult to prove acts of money laundering.

“That is why we preferred to go with a negotiated solution.”

AFP

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