ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s highest court has allowed tax authorities to turn over bank account details of two Indian citizens who had fought the release on the grounds that India’s request for assistance in a tax-dodging probe arose from stolen bank data.
The case involved information leaked by whistleblower Herve Falciani, a French citizen who worked for HSBC’s Swiss private bank and in 2008 disclosed details on thousands of clients he suspected were using accounts to evade tax.
The information sparked investigations in several countries and put Swiss banking secrecy in a harsh spotlight. Swiss courts have sentenced Falciani in absentia to five years in jail for industrial espionage but he has avoided prison by remaining outside Switzerland.
His leak forced Swiss courts to grapple with requests from other countries to help prosecute suspected tax dodgers whose Swiss accounts came to light.
Last year, the Swiss supreme court rejected a French request for help in investigating a married couple for tax offences, ruling that data stolen from HSBC’s Geneva private bank was inadmissible.
But in a verdict released on Thursday, the Federal Court ruled that India should get access to the client data it sought.
Unlike in the French case, it noted, India made no explicit statements about whether it got the data legally, and got the data from another country rather than from Falciani directly.
As long as countries seeking legal assistance did not buy stolen data for use in such requests, their bids for assistance may be granted, the court ruled, opening the door for other countries to seek similar treatment.
The German state of North Rhine Westphalia paid around 10.3 million euros for six CDs with details of Swiss bank accounts, the region’s finance ministry said in 2012.
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Robin Pomeroy