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Hero or Villain? The Strange Case of HSBC Whistleblower Hervé Falciani

Falciani posing in July on the Champs de Mars in Paris
Falciani posing in July on the Champs de Mars in ParisPhotograph by Philippe Wojazer/Corbis

On Feb. 1, 2008, a man and a woman boarded a plane in Geneva and flew to Beirut. Over the next week, they visited managers at four Lebanese banks. The man, who identified himself as a Lebanese national named Ruben El Chidiak, told the bankers that he ran a consulting firm and had valuable information to sell.

In fact, his name was Hervé Falciani, and he was a systems engineer at the Geneva-based private banking unit of HSBC. The bank would determine later that he had carried out one of the biggest security breaches in Swiss banking history, obtaining details on the accounts of some 24,000 HSBC private-banking clients.