Swissleaks whistle blower claims he wants to help govts. Did he shoot himself in the foot?

Falciani, an Italian-French national is trying to cast himself as the next Edward Snowden, but he has made one huge mistake
Swissleaks whistle blower claims he wants to help govts. Did he shoot himself in the foot?
Swissleaks whistle blower claims he wants to help govts. Did he shoot himself in the foot?

A Swiss court will decide soon whether or not a former employee of the Geneva branch of the global banking giant HSBC bank committed acts that fall squarely in the realm of espionage.

The man – Herve Falciani – has been in and out of the news for various reasons, the most important one being that of chief protagonist in the leaking of HSBC bank secrets to the French government in 2008.  His efforts to now play chief victim has unfortunately become the focus of the story.

Unfortunate, because the documents he leaked proved incontrovertibly that the Geneva office of HSBC was hand-in-glove with blood diamonds dealers and gunrunners and tacitly encouraged them to launder the spoils of their plunder through gnomes (as Swiss bankers are sometimes called) in the bank in Geneva. 

This was going on for years and Falciani, a systems engineer claims he went public only after the bank refused to rectify its behavior despite his repeated pleas.  

The documents he took with him when he left the bank detail some $100 billion across 23 countries and thousands of names. It contains names of tax evaders and criminals and needs an informed reading to make that critical distinction.

The same documents hit the headlines as Swissleaks. This is the global journalistic effort led by the International Consortium of Journalists (ICJ) and they told a terrible story of the scale and complicity of HSBC in money laundering. The Indian Express was the Indian media house that worked with the ICJ to reveal the list of Indians in the cache. The News Minute has this list.  

Pilloried in the media and some political circles, HSBC cried foul and sought to hide behind Swiss banking secrecy laws to protect itself. Despite a widely reported search and seize operation in their Geneva offices by cantonal authorities last summer, the bank got away with a paltry $43 million (in banking terms) in fines and no criminal proceedings were initiated. Swiss authorities also claimed their hands were tied as the documents were stolen and Falciani’s hands are not clean.

It is unclear if Falciani will be present in court tomorrow in the Swiss city of Bellinzona when the trial begins. According to Swiss laws the hearings can be postponed once after which they must continue with or without the presence of the accused. The News Minute’s calls to Falcian’s lawyer in Geneva remained unanswered at time of writing.

The ‘whistle blower’ has one big problem and that is called Falciani. Tomorrow’s proceedings will attract some attention, but not the kind desired by the accused. Falciani who is an Italian-French national is trying to cast himself as the next Edward Snowden (the former CIA employee who leaked classified documents) but he has made one huge mistake. 

Among other charges, he stands accused of trying to sell his stolen information to as many as eight governments. And that is potentially a serious fall for someone who claims to be outraged by greedy bankers. Falciani started out well handing the documents over to former Finance Minister of France Christine Lagarde (currently head of the International Monetary Fund). Lagarde passed on the documents to the concerned governments. In November 2014, HSBC was indicted in France for money laundering.

In December 2014 Swiss federal authorities indicted Falciani (who is not named) for violating the country’s famous secrecy laws.

Falciani’s trail gets muddy after the documents reach France. The French government was so happy with the information he brought that they gave him a new identity. But that was not what the whistle blower apparently expected. 

Between 2008 and tomorrow’s trials Falciani has spoken to the media with his face in full view, he has been jailed and has also been absconding. In between playing hide and seek he claimed that a major government wanted him dead and that Mossad, Israel’s secret service was chasing him. Earlier this year India’s NDTV reported that Falciani was in talks with the Indian government to cut a deal on client data. Media reports say he has been working with European governments to take the documents further, but trails have long turned cold.

If the charges stand up in a court of law Falciani would have crossed the line between whistle blowers who are driven by moral outrage typically over the actions of politicians in their countries and those attracted by mammon. Falciani’s spin on the collective sin of banks like the HSBC, governments and himself (if it can be called that) is not sticking.

He has played his hand so clumsily – and some may say greedily – that he makes Swiss banks and their ridiculous and notorious secrecy laws look decent. Robin hood or renegade we will know in a few months but bottom fell out of Falciani’s victimhood when he tried to cash in on his ‘outrage’.

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