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  November 1, 2015

'Ed Snowden of Banking' Refuses to Appear in Swiss Trial

After Herve Falciani leaked more than 100,000 HSBC account records of tax evaders to government tax agencies, the Swiss government has been on a witch hunt says economist James Henry
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James S. Henry is an investigative economist and lawyer, a Global Justice Fellow at Yale University, and a Senior Advisor at the Tax Justice Network. Previously, James served as Chief Economist at the international consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. As an investigative journalist his work has appeared in numerous publications like Forbes, The Nation and The New York Times.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

He's a name you might not have heard of, but you should know: Herve Falciani. He is sometimes called the Ed Snowden of banking. Back in 2008 he committed the most significant theft of data in banking history. The former systems engineer at the Swiss subsidiary of HSBC downloaded details of more than 100,000 potential tax evaders and made the information available to the account holders' national tax agencies. He's been wanted by the Swiss government for seven years and counting.

Here to discuss his case is James Henry. James is a leading economist, attorney, and investigative journalist who has written extensively about global issues. Thank you so much for joining us, James.

JAMES HENRY: Glad to be here.

DESVARIEUX: So James, Falciani, he's supposed to face trial in the first week of November. But he's come out saying that he would not attend his trial because he won't be given a fair trial in Switzerland. Can you just briefly explain the charges the Swiss government has brought against him, and do you think his claim is valid?

HENRY: Well, Switzerland has very tough bank secrecy laws and trade secret laws, and they have indicted him in absentia. He faces a trail in absentia on November 2, next week. So he's wisely, I think, decided not to go back to Switzerland. He's actually in France helping the French authorities prosecute the bank that he was employed at, HSBC, and its Geneva branch where they had been helping more than 130,000, actually, clients from all over the planet, including many politically influential people, evade taxes and protect stolen assets.

So from a Swiss standpoint, they don't have a whistleblowing protection law. They have a kind of witch hunt that they go after--this is just one of a number of whistleblower cases that have actually exploded in Switzerland since the 2008 crisis. And you know, routinely they, they look at the crimes committed by the so-called whistleblower, and not at the crimes committed by their own banks.

DESVARIEUX: All right. James, can we sort of put Falciani's actions into context? As I stated in the introduction, we're talking about the largest theft of data in banking history. What is some specific information to come out of this data leak, and what would be especially relevant for those citizens looking for tax justice?

HENRY: Well in the case of, let's say Argentina, which has indicted HSBC for abetting tax dodging, or the Indian government, which is prosecuting HSBC for abetting tax dodging. Falciani has helped--the French, as well, for the same basic prosecution of HSBC. This is a case where this bank and many other large, global banks in the haven industry basically help the wealthiest people on the planet evade taxes and protect kleptocracy, stolen assets from their governments. Once those assets are parked in a Swiss account, or trust, or company, they're basically immune to the reach of their own governments. Falciani is I think, you know, just one of a number of whistleblowers who is helping to expose this behavior and bring it to light, and then try to put pressure on Switzerland to cut it out.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And I want to understand what's going to be next for Falciani. He's currently living in France, as you mentioned, working with the French government. But what is his future going to really look like?

HENRY: Well, he was an IT specialist here. I think, you know, it's--in general, whistleblowers pay a heavy price for their activities. You know, there have been a couple that have received large rewards in the United States. Bradley Birkenfeld. But in general a place like Switzerland, they're determined to go after them. And they made the lives of people like Rudy Elmer, another Swiss whistleblower, miserable.

So this kind of prosecutorial behavior on the part of the Swiss government really deserves to be resisted by other countries. But so far, you know, it's the whistleblowers that are paying the price here for exposing this outrageous industry.

DESVARIEUX: All right. James Henry joining us from New York. Thank you so much for being with us.

HENRY: You're quite welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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