Data Theft at HSBC Private Bank in Geneva: Indictment
Bern, 11.12.2014 - The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has brought charges against the former computer technical analyst at the HSBC branch office in Geneva. The fugitive IT specialist is suspected of having proposed computerized data to Lebanese banks as well as to several foreign authorities. Criminal proceedings against another former Bank employee were abandoned in September.
The case - vested with extensive political ramifications and of great interest in the media - came to light as the result of a tip that a man and a woman had attempted to sell banking data in Lebanon. The incident was reported by the Swiss Bankers Association. The OAG learned of these events in April 2008 from a police report drawn up by the Federal Criminal Police (FCP) and opened criminal proceedings in May 2008.
The identity of the man, who presented himself in Lebanon using an alias, was unknown at the time the criminal investigation began. It was only in December 2008 that the mysterious person's identity was revealed in the course of house searches in Geneva. Once identified, he was questioned by the police about his activities in Lebanon. He admitted to having developed a data-base project with fictitious names and to having approached Lebanese banks with his commercial idea.
Even if he had manifestly presented himself under a false name in Lebanon, at the time of his identification and initial questioning by the police in Switzerland, there were no grounds that could have justified taking the man into custody. His interrogation by the OAG was supposed to have continued on the next day. During the night, however, the Franco-Italian national fled abroad. He subsequently got in touch by phone, saying that he wanted to spend the Christmas holidays with his family in France and that he would once again be available for questioning after the holidays.
Once it became clear he would not honour his word, an urgent request for mutual legal assistance was submitted to the French authorities, in execution of which he was then questioned in France during the month of January. Simultaneously, house searches were conducted at his domicile in France and various objects were seized. After having sent several reminders, it was only a year later that the OAG finally received the results from the French authorities in execution of its request for mutual legal assistance.
In 2009, this Franco-Italian national was also the object of an international arrest warrant, on the basis of which he was finally arrested in Barcelona in the summer of 2012. After having been held for a few months in detention pending extradition, he was released, and on 8 May 2013, a Spanish court ruled against his extradition to Switzerland.
The OAG accuses the former computer technical analyst at the HSBC Private Bank in Geneva of having transmitted data, from February 2008, from his erstwhile employer's database to Lebanese banks, to the Paris-based Direction nationale d'enquêtes fiscales (National Directorate of Tax Investigations), and to other foreign authorities. The data in question concerned bank-internal processes as well as information on bank accounts of HSBC clients.
With respect to the data that he was proposing abroad, the OAG accuses him of having transferred said data onto his own data carriers beginning from October 2006 up to the moment he was detained on 22 December 2008, and of having done so in full awareness of his illegal behaviour contrary to the internal processes and regulations of the Bank. It should be noted that this concerns a substantial amount of data which he procured from several separate systems without authorisation with a view to arranging it differently and setting up new data relationships. The accused compiled data and information on the Bank's clients that was both personal and financial in nature, thus creating complete client profiles with the intent - as is the hypothesis of the OAG - at least in the initial phase in Lebanon, of cashing in on this data.
Sometimes celebrated as a hero abroad, the Franco-Italian national is now to answer for his alleged crimes before a Swiss court. The Swiss Criminal Procedure Code does not exclude the possibility of holding a court trial of the accused person in absentia. The OAG has handed over the bill of indictment to the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. The accused is being charged with the crimes of qualified industrial espionage (Art. 273 para. 2 of the Swiss Criminal Code SCC); unauthorised obtaining of data (Art. 143 para. 1 of the SCC); breach of trade secrecy (Art. 162 para. 1 of the SCC); and violation of banking secrecy (Art. 47 para. 1 letter a of the Federal Banking Act). In addition to the bank concerned, several bank customers are also taking part in the proceedings with the status of private claimants.
The role of another former HSBC employee, with whom the accused maintained a personal relationship and who accompanied him to Lebanon, has in retrospect turned out to be marginal. The Franco-Lebanese national appeared not to have perceived the activities that took place in Lebanon as breaches of secrecy per se. Criminal proceedings against this person were abandoned in September.
For the person accused, the presumption of innocence prevails until a legally binding court judgment is available. With the submission of the bill of indictment, competence for information to the media is transferred to the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.
Address for enquiries
Jeannette Balmer, Spokeswoman OAG, +41 58 464 32 40, firstname.lastname@example.org
Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland