Spain Rejects Extraditing HSBC Whistleblower to Switzerland

Herve Falciani, left, leaves the national court after an extradition hearing in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.  (AP Photo/Aritz Parra)

By ARITZ PARRA

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish court on Tuesday rejected a request to extradite a former HSBC employee to serve a five-year prison sentence in Switzerland, where he was convicted for leaking a massive trove of bank data that led to tax evasion probes worldwide.

The ruling was the second time Spain’s National Court refused to extradite Herve Falciani, a French-Italian computer expert who in 2008 disclosed tens of thousands of records of HSBC customers who allegedly used the bank’s Swiss branch to avoid taxes. He was convicted in absentia of breaching financial secrecy laws in Switzerland in 2015.

A panel of three National Court judges ruled Tuesday that Falciani had already been cleared from extradition in 2013, when the same court ruled that “aggravated economic espionage” is not a crime in Spain.

The judges also say that Falciani didn’t reveal any secrets because he only shared them with authorities who initiated investigations in dozens of countries, including in Spain.

Falciani, 46, was first arrested in Spain in 2012. He spent 170 days in prison before he was released. He was arrested again in Madrid in April, in a renewed effort by Swiss authorities to make him serve his prison time.

Falciani said he believed Spain’s previous conservative administration arrested him in order to use him as “a bargaining chip” in requests to extradite pro-independence Catalan politicians in Switzerland.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, he said the only explanation of why he was arrested again this year after a lull in his case was political.

He claimed that the initiative to arrest him had not come from Swiss authorities. The Spanish government denied the allegations.

Falciani has said that being free over the past five years allowed him to work with anti-corruption prosecutors in the country and elsewhere, helping France recover millions of euros (dollars) in fines and Belgian authorities open a massive probe into the diamond market.

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