Friday, August 09, 2013

quiet as it's kept, 1% sprang a leak too...,


NYTimes | Hervé Falciani is a professed whistle-blower — the Edward Snowden of banking — who has been hunted by Swiss investigators, jailed by Spaniards and claims to have been kidnapped by Israeli Mossad agents eager for a glimpse of the client data he stole while working for a major financial institution in Geneva. 

“I am weak and alone,” Mr. Falciani said, as three round-the-clock bodyguards provided by the French government looked on with hard stares. The protection was needed, he insisted, because he faces constant risk as the sole key to decipher the encrypted data — five CD-ROMs containing a list of nearly 130,000 account holders that may be the biggest leak ever in the secretive world of Swiss banking. 

But as he settled into a deserted bistro for a two-hour lunch, Mr. Falciani, a former computer technician who has been on the run since 2008, seemed oddly relaxed for a fugitive. And why not? 

He is in high demand these days, having cast himself as a crusader against the murky world of Swiss banking and money laundering. Once dismissed by many European authorities, he and other whistle-blowers are now being courted as the region’s governments struggle to fill their coffers and to stem a populist uprising against tax evasion and corruption. 

“It’s an economic war,” said Mr. Falciani, an angular man of 41 with a dark goatee who sometimes dons disguises, though on a muggy summer afternoon favored an innocuous beige tie and short-sleeved dress shirt. “In Switzerland, the banks are so organized that they are able to circumvent new rules and laws to continue to enable tax evasion.” 

Critics, not least at his former employer HSBC, dismiss Mr. Falciani as a manipulator more dazzled by money than high ideals. The data he has leaked — some say sold — since 2008 has wreaked havoc within the banking world, as well as the moneyed and political classes of Europe. 

Mr. Falciani’s information formed the basis for the now famous “Lagarde list” that has roiled Greek politics with its revelations of oligarchs and politicians who avoided taxes by stashing millions in Switzerland.

His data is also credited with helping Spain collect 260 million euros ($345 million) in taxes and identify more than 650 tax evaders, including the president of Banco Santander.
 
In 2012, Mr. Falciani passed his information to American authorities. They, in turn, used the data to pursue an investigation into whether HSBC flouted controls on money laundering, eventually forcing a $1.92 billion settlement with the bank in December. 

More than a few rich and powerful people await his next move. Mr. Falciani asserts that only a small portion of the data has been decrypted and used.

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