Swiss Bank Leaker Arrested in Madrid
After a brief imprisonment, Herve Falciani was released from custody by Spain’s High Court on Thursday. The former HSBC employee, known for leaking details of tax evaders in 2008, must remain in Spain while the country considers Switzerland’s request for his surrender.
Considered a hero by some, Falciani was sentenced by Swiss courts to five years in jail in absentia in 2015. While the sentence did not affect Falciani during his residency in France, where he was protected from extradition, he was arrested in Madrid on Wednesday before he was supposed to speak at a conference on whistleblowing.
Since then, Spanish authorities have requested that Falciani hand over his passport and make a weekly appearance before a court. If he fails to comply with these requirements, he may face further imprisonment.
However, Falciani’s attorney already denounced such a scenario as highly unlikely, referring to a similar precedent in 2012 when Falciani was detained in Spain at Switzerland’s request but then released since the Swiss charges were not considered crimes under Spanish law. Accordingly, lawyer Marc Henzelin considered Falciani’s release from custody “confirmation that the case is weak,” while Falciani’s personal lawyer, Manuel Olle, called the Spanish court’s measures “quite drastic.”
Falciani, who previously worked in the IT department at HSBC’s Swiss private banking unit, fled from Geneva to France in 2009 after stealing and attempting to sell confidential data of more than 100,000 individuals and legal entities. While he severely violated Swiss banking secrecy laws, he also facilitated a respective investigation that led HSBC to pay $368m to French authorities last November.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which published Falciani’s data after he handed it over to then-French finance minister Christine Lagarde, stated that the accounts contained nearly $120 billion, revealing massive tax evasions from various countries. Among those was Spain, which recovered about $262 million of unpaid taxes from Spanish individuals on Falciani’s list.
While Spain might consider its own benefits derived from Falciani’s crimes, the timing of the arrest suggests a possibility of increased rigorousness, as some media outlets suspect a link to the Spanish arrest warrants for Catalan politicians that fled the country. When asked about this possible link, Spain’s Justice minister Rafael Catala simply stated the government didn’t have any say in the timing of this process without clearly rejecting the claims. But so far, Spain has yet to file any extradition requests to Switzerland related to Marta Rovira or other Catalan politicians.