The Swiss financial regulator has initiated formal administrative proceedings against HSBC, after it was confirmed that the data stolen in 2007 from its private bank compromised 15,000 existing clients with Swiss-based accounts.
FINMA, the Swiss financial regulator, has initiated formal administrative proceedings against HSBC, after it was confirmed this month that the data stolen in 2007 from its Geneva-based private bank compromised 15,000 existing clients with Swiss-based accounts. In total, 24,000 accounts were stolen.
Meanwhile, HSBC has issued a public apology for the incident.
Hervé Falciani, a former computer specialist who fled to France, was the thief.
The extent of the theft, which emerged when copies of some of the data were passed to HSBC by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor, has prompted FINMA to investigate how it could have occurred, and whether the bank has since implemented the legally required operational and technical prevention measures.
The matter extends beyond the bank and the Swiss authorities, as a dispute emerged between the French and Swiss governments when the French government seized the data.
The issue not only demonstrates how ruthless governments are prepared to be when it comes to fighting tax evasion, but also how client secrecy has been compromised – not only by governments, but by bank employees who, seeing governments’ desire for this information, increasingly see it as a way of profiting.
In trying to use the data, the French government was not setting a precedent: the German government bought another disk containing illegal data, and the UK government also tried to access it.
The Swiss authorities have made it clear they will not support the use of the stolen data to answer requests from foreign authorities, while the French authorities have informed the Swiss authorities that the data they hold will not be used “inappropriately”, HSBC said in a statement.
With regard to the affair, which as well as prompting these proceedings, has also resulted in a criminal investigation against the former employee, HSBC has expressed its deepest regret and has said it is “determined to protect [its] clients’ interests and [is] taking every necessary measure to do so.”
FINMA will publish the outcome of the proceedings, but has said that during the proceedings no information will be disclosed.
According to a report by the Financial Times, Mr Falciani, who joined HSBC in 2000 and perpetrated his theft in 2006, was well-regarded enough to have sufficient access. The project on which he was engaged was a scheme to “migrate” the bank’s account information to a more secure database. HSBC itself had no knowledge of Mr Falciani’s extra-curricular activities until informed by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s office in December 2008, some two years after the theft, the report said.
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