Wednesday, December 09, 2009

France protects HSBC whistleblower

An HSBC whistleblower has been providing information to the French tax authorities about potential tax evaders. We don't know for sure the motivations of the whistleblower, though his lawyer describes him as

"an idealist who wanted to use transparency to fight financial crime."

The 38 year old man reportedly foiled HSBC's internal security systems to get the information to do it, and the case has parallels with an earlier high-profile whistleblower case involving Liechtenstein and Germany.

We have two issues here: one, the possible actions of a single individual who may or may not have broken (we won't prejudge the case) a Swiss law on breaking bank secrecy - a law which is itself a massive inducement to criminality. The other issue is the fact that a giant, globetrotting bank and an entire nation state may or may not have sought to induce and perpetrate criminal tax evasion on an industrial scale. It's fairly obvious where the massive weight of criminality lies.

So it is a a shock to see how some newspapers have reacted to this story. The Financial Times, for example, leads like this:

"The French government on Wednesday admitted it may have used stolen details of Swiss bank accounts held with HSBC to launch a crackdown on French tax evaders earlier this year."

Several other newspapers have led the story with this angle too. Well, perhaps the story is sexier when dressed up that way, but one would expect a mostly sober financial newspaper to approach this story with the correct balance.

We are, at least, heartened to see, following what's already reported:

"(French Budget Minister Eric) Woerth launched his tax evasion clampdown in August with much fanfare, saying he was on the trail of 3,000 French citizens wth undeclared accounts in Switzerland holding a total of €3bn."


"Officials said in August that two banks operating in France had volunteered most of the information on the 3,000 account holders, while the rest came from its own tax probe."

and that, as The Times reports,

"Patrick Rizzo, the man’s lawyer, said that the man had been given a false identity and a new passport by the French authorities. . . . The inquiry has fuelled tension between France and Switzerland, with Paris refusing a request by Berne to hand over the suspect.

France has the right approach.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French government is handling this issue perfectly. The Swiss government is a known co-conspirator with their private banks in assisting their clients to commit tax evasion in foreign countries. They get what they deserve. There is sweet poetic justice in this...the Swiss government apprehended Roman Polansky, a French citizen, only to get into the good graces of the U.S. government with the present tax scandal brewing in the U.S. But they have placed themselves in the French crossshairs for doing this. It is also nice to see that the French know how to work with whistleblowers, unlike the Bush Department of Justice in the U.S.

2:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do I smell a perp trade here? Swiss will give back Polanski to get Hervé Falciani back?

12:50 am  

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