Part of a list of alleged tax evaders and money launderers being investigated by French authorities was stolen from HSBC Private Bank in Geneva, the bank has confirmed.
Part of a list of 3,000 alleged French tax evaders being used by the French authorities to put pressure on Switzerland was stolen from HSBC Private Bank by a former employee, a French newspaper has reported.
Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that an employee working in the IT department at the Geneva branch of HSBC Private Bank stole the information in 2008 before fleeing to France.
The head of Switzerland's Association of Foreign Banks, Martin Maurer, on Wednesday confirmed some information was stolen from the Swiss branch last year.
"This case goes back to 2008, when there was theft of banking data at HSBC Geneva,” he told AFP. “But that concerns only a small amount of data."
HSBC separately confirmed that it had customer data stolen between 2006 and 2007 by a former employee.
The banks, however, denied it had reported the theft to Swiss police authorities, as alleged in Le Parisien, also saying that the amount of information taken was “small”.
Judicial protection on the French Riviera
According to Le Parisien, the former employee, known only as “Antoine” is now living in Nice on the French Riviera under judicial protection.
The newspaper added that Nice prosecutor Eric de Montgolfier has opened preliminary inquiries into local residents suspected of hiding cash in HSBC’s Swiss bank accounts.
The French finance ministry has refused to confirm or deny the report, but admitted it has been working with names of suspects from several sources.
In August, France announced that it had obtained a list of 3,000 French citizens it alleges are hiding behind Swiss banking secrecy laws to conceal the profits of tax evasion and in some cases to launder cash from criminal activity.
At the time, French Budget Minister Eric Woerth said the list had been handed to the authorities "anonymously, it had not been paid for and had been done with the cooperation of the banks concerned."
The suspects have been given until the end of the year to pay overdue tax and will otherwise face an audit on an overall sum which Eric Woerth estimates at three billion euros.
Since the start of the global economic crisis, Switzerland has come under increasing pressure to reform its banking laws, which attract vast sums in deposits to the Alpine federation but frustrate foreign tax officials.