France's prosecutors cannot use stolen HSBC client data

2 February 2012

France's Supreme Court has ruled that information stolen from HSBC Private Bank's Geneva branch cannot be used in the prosecution of alleged tax evaders.

An HSBC employee, Herve Falciani, illicitly copied the details of thousands of client accounts in 2007 and took it to France. The Swiss government issued a warrant for his arrest, and in 2009 the French authorities used this warrant to raid Falciani's home and seize the data. Falciani has since been placed under a witness protection programme.

France subsequently made the confidential information available to tax enforcement agencies of many other countries, as well as using it to investigate its own tax residents, including searching their homes.

However, it now turns out that these searches were all illegitimate. One of the targetted individuals complained to France's lower appeal court and in February last year succeeded in having the tax authorities' actions ruled unlawful. The French Budget Ministry appealed that ruling but has now lost in the Commercial, Financial and Economic Supreme Court (Court de Cassation), the country's highest court. This decision cannot be challenged any further.

A spokesman for HSBC Private Bank Geneva said: "We are pleased with the judgment which confirms that the data was illegally acquired, as we have always maintained."

The Budget Ministry issued a statement to the effect that the Supreme Court decision would only have a limited effect by restricting its search powers. It is likely that the French authorities always knew the information could not be used in evidence, but have used it to pressurise suspects into making admissions.

 

Sources

Swissinfo

Agence France-Presse (in English via MSN)

Romandie News (in French)

 

 


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