4 Dec 2013

Exclusive interview with the ‘Edward Snowden of banking’

It was the biggest bank heist in history, not of money or gold bullion, but something far more important – data – and it all stems back to one man, who worked in one branch of just one bank.

For the first time the IT expert who took details of tens of thousands of client accounts from Britain’s largest bank tells his full story.

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The data leak has caused havoc around the world, forming the basis of the “Lagarde List” in Greece, and led to hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes being repaid in Spain, France and the UK.

Mr Falciani’s data was used by a Senate investigation into HSBC that led to the bank being fined $1.9bn.

Last month a cartel of Belgian diamond dealers was raided partly based on evidence from the list.

Celebrities, bankers, politicians, tax evaders, and drug traffickers have featured on the list now being investigated by tax and criminal authorities around the world.

A ‘trap’ that revealed data

Mr Falciani is in hiding in southern France for his own security, and was the subject of an Interpol manhunt red alert after Swiss authorities tried to extradite him.

In fact he revealed to me that the efforts by the Swiss to apprehend him, led to the release of the data: “of course it was a trap.. on both occasions they thought it was a way to hide, but in the opposite it was a way to reveal”.

Mr Falciani said that Government minister Lord Green, chief executive and then chairman at HSBC in the mid 2000s could have and should have done more to put in place stronger financial controls at the bank: “He could have done more; he should because I know it’s required.”

Channel 4 News has also seen new details about the 127,000 client accounts from around the world: individuals, corporates, trusts, societies, and professional authorities.

There are nearly double the number of UK client accounts than HMRC has investigated, and many more linked to UK overseas territories. Mr Falciani tells Channel 4 News that he is surprised that the UK authorities have not contacted him for help exposing undeclared income and potential criminality.

This is a story of control. Control within a bank, a lack of control of banks, and a loss of control over bank data. It is extraordinary enough, but there are more stories from this pot of bank data still to come.

HSBC say that Falciani stole the data, tried to sell it, and is now exaggerating its importance.

Herve Falciani has already been imprisoned (later freed) and says he is prepared to go back to jail to expose the lack of control in our financial system:

“But of course I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid about nothing in the end. I know I’m right and I know I have just to share it with citizens if politicians don’t want.”

We asked for comment from Lord Green. His office referred us to HSBC. The bank told Channel 4 News that there is no record of Mr Falciani raising the alarm to his managers, and claims that he tried to sell the stolen data.

In a statement it says:

“HSBC has estimated that 15,000 existing clients were impacted”.. and insists: “client numbers are exaggerated”, “HSBC complies with the law in all the territories in which it operates… ”

HMRC says it has done everything possible with the data it has received.

In a statement it told us:

“We have examined all individuals and businesses identifiable from the data. About 40 per cent of those challenged so far have proven to be tax compliant. Wherever we find evidence of evasion by hiding assets offshore we relentlessly pursue them without exception”.

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