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Swiss Court Rejects Ex-HSBC Lawyer Demand on Data Secrecy

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- A Swiss court rejected an appeal by a former lawyer at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss private bank against the handover of his and other employee names to U.S. authorities probing offshore tax evasion.

Eric Delissy’s plea to examine his complaint against HSBC, the Swiss government and the financial services supervisor Finma was denied, according to an e-mailed statement from the Bellinzona, Switzerland-based Federal Criminal Court.

The U.S. is probing at least 11 Swiss financial firms including HSBC, Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd. for allegedly helping Americans hide money from the Internal Revenue Service. Delissy, head of legal at HSBC’s Geneva unit from 1998 to 2003, lodged his complaint last June after the government said Swiss banks were exempted from rules prohibiting companies from sending evidence to assist foreign legal proceedings.

The banks turned over as many as 10,000 employee names to U.S. authorities in search of leniency, Douglas Hornung, the Geneva-based lawyer who represented Delissy and other bank staff, said in August.

The court ordered Delissy to pay 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,140) compensation to HSBC and fees of 1,500 francs saying he can’t appeal again, according to the ruling.

Switzerland’s prosecutor said eight months ago that it wouldn’t take up Delissy’s request to investigate the bank or the authorities that backed the delivery of the information.

Data Transfer

The data transfer was an illegal violation of personal privacy, Hornung said at the time, prompting a campaign in the Swiss media against acquiescing to American demands. Swiss Respect, a lobby group which says it works to protect Swiss interests from attacks on its legal and economic system, and the Swiss Bank Employees Association, also campaigned for wealth managers to uphold data protection rules.

“Eric Delissy naively thought the first duty of a government is to protect its fellow citizens and not to offer them as a sacrifice to a foreign criminal authority,” Hornung said in an e-mailed statement on behalf of his client today. “The message will be clearly received by the American authorities, which continue to add to the pressures and accusations until every piece of information they demand is communicated to them.”

Swiss banks, the biggest managers of offshore wealth, and their employees have seen secrecy erode since UBS AG admitted in 2009 to fostering tax evasion and paid a fine of $780 million to avoid prosecution. Switzerland’s largest wealth manager later turned over data on about 4,700 accounts to the IRS.

HSBC, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer have said they are cooperating with the U.S. authorities’s investigations and they expect to pay fines to help resolve their disputes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Giles Broom in Geneva at gbroom@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net

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