Ex-HSBC Employee Falciani Said Indicted on Data Theft

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A former computer technician at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss unit, “celebrated as a hero abroad,” was indicted in Switzerland on charges of industrial espionage and violating bank secrecy laws, prosecutors said.

The Swiss Attorney General’s office, without identifying the suspect as is its custom, said in a statement today that the country was prepared to try him in absentia. The statement refers to Herve Falciani, the technician accused of stealing client data in 2008 from HSBC’s Geneva office and passing it to French authorities, said a person with direct knowledge of the case who asked not to be identified.

HSBC was charged in France last month with money laundering through tax fraud and illegal marketing in a case stemming from the data theft. The bank faces a similar investigation in Belgium and last month agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle claims with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its Swiss private-banking unit solicited U.S. investors without being registered.

William Bourdon, Falciani’s lawyer, said he was in court and not immediately available to respond for comment.

Falciani was detained in Geneva in December 2008 and questioned for several hours before being released. He was asked to return the next day but instead left for France and did not return. He lived in France for a time and turned up in Spain in mid-2012. Switzerland has failed in efforts to extradite him from France and Spain.

French Effort

In its statement, the Attorney General’s office said the defendant has sometimes been “celebrated as a hero abroad.”

French prosecutors have increased efforts to punish tax evasion since the country’s former budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, was forced to resign after his secret Swiss account was exposed. The government has targeted wealthy individuals who stashed assets over the border in Switzerland and pressured the banks they used to encourage clients to declare their untaxed assets.

Swiss law forbids bank employees from passing account data to third parties, unless the bank’s clients or Switzerland’s tax authority approves the disclosure. Data thieves risk a prison sentence of as much as three years if convicted.

(Updates with Swiss law details in eighth paragraph.)
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