10 Feb 2015

HSBC: whistleblower Herve Falciani talks to Channel 4 News

The theft of thousands of HSBC clients’ financial details led to a major probe into tax evasion and money laundering. In 2013, the whistleblower who took the data talked to Channel 4 News.

It is late December 2013, and Herve Falciani has been on the run from the Swiss authorities for five years, writes Andy Lee.

His story is one that Channel 4 News took up over a year ago. And his exploits have sent ripples around the financial world to the extent that he is now referred to as the Ed Snowden of banking.

Over a period of two years the IT worker at the Geneva Branch of HSBC’s private bank stole what he described as the “memory of the bank”. Every transaction belonging to a little under 130,000 accounts.

Stolen data

Herve Falciani claims he feared the Swiss-based bank was being used as a conduit for illegal activity, including tax evasion. He says his superiors ignored his warning, so he stole the data with a view to getting the information to prosecutors around the globe.

Despite countries still reeling from the global financial crisis, very few governments seemed willing to act on it.

Not least in the United Kingdom. HMRC had been given the list of around 6,000 British individuals, but only around £150m had been recovered and one person had been prosecuted. Compare that to £210m in Spain with only a third of the exposure.

Relentlessly pursued

HMRC told us then: “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.”

During Falciani’s time at HSBC Geneva, Stephen Green was chief executive and later chairman. He’s now Lord Green and was made minister for trade and investment in 2011, despite the fact that HMRC had Falciani’s list for a year.

Did Lord Green know what was happening in Geneva? When Channel 4 News originally interviewed Herve Falciani, Lord Green declined to comment and referred us to HSBC.

At the time, HSBC said “We do not have any record or knowledge of any previous attempts made by Falciani to alert his line manager or the bank’s management of any concerns over the bank’s internal procedures or any wrongdoing… HSBC has estimated that 15,000 existing clients were impacted… client numbers are exaggerated”.