(Bloomberg) -- Herve Falciani, a former bank employee who took client data from HSBC Holdings Plc’s Geneva unit, was found guilty of corporate espionage and given a five-year prison sentence by a Swiss court in absentia, making it unlikely he’ll ever spend time inside a prison in the country.
The Frenchman stayed out of Switzerland during the trial to avoid the risk of arrest, preferring to stay in France, a country which doesn’t extradite its own citizens. The decision was read out Friday at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona by Judge David Glassey, who criticized the lengths that Falciani went to in his attempts to profit from the data he took.
The “significant criminal energy” Falciani put into his efforts to pass on the bank data to foreign third parties, including creating fake business cards, a false website and even fraudulent documents, showed “a total absence of scruples,” the judge said.
The case has pitted supporters of Falciani, who claim he took the data to prove that HSBC’s Geneva private banking unit was helping foreign clients evade taxes, against the British bank and federal prosecutors, which said the Frenchman declared himself a whistle-blower only after he failed to sell the data to a third party in Lebanon.
“He’s a thief and a liar,” Laurent Moreillon, HSBC’s lawyer, told reporters after the hearing. Falciani’s argument that he was a whistle-blower was “pure invention and is a lesson to anyone who might try the same thing,” he said.
HSBC said that the bank had always “maintained that Falciani systematically stole clients’ information in order to sell it for his own personal financial gain.”
“The court heard that he was not motivated by whistle- blowing intentions and that this was not a victimless crime,” the London-based bank said in a statement.
Annick Fournier, standing in for Falciani’s trial lawyer Marc Henzelin, declined to comment after the hearing. Falciani was acquitted of charges that he violated commercial and banking secrecy rules.
The case generated global headlines after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a report based on Falciani’s data that showed how HSBC allegedly advised customers, including convicted drug dealers, on taxes and laundering money.
During the November trial, Falciani’s lawyer didn’t dispute the fact he’d taken the data but took issue with what he said was the light punishment meted out to HSBC. The bank struck a deal in June that allowed the bank to pay a 40-million Swiss franc ($39 million) penalty for “past organizational deficiencies” to close a probe by the Geneva prosecutor’s office and avoid criminal charges.
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