Suit against Bern for handing bank data to US rejected

30th April 2013, Comments 0 comments

A Swiss court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit against Bern for allowing the names of 1,100 employees and former employees of British bank HSBC to be handed over to US tax authorities, the ATS news agency reported.

Last April, the Swiss government gave 11 Swiss banks the go-ahead to accommodate a US tax evasion probe and hand over the names of thousands of their staff and consultants working with American clients.

Fearful of harsh US penalties and prosecution, the banks then met Washington's demands, handing over personal information about staff, and reportedly also making personal documents, emails and details of telephone calls available.

Charging that the move had sullied his reputation and forced him to live as an outcast who could no longer travel outside Switzerland for fear of being extradited to the United States, a former HSBC executive, whose name has not been revealed, filed a lawsuit against the bank, the Swiss government and Swiss financial regulator FINMA.

Swiss prosecutors had already rejected trying the case, but the man took it to the country's highest criminal court, which on Tuesday buried it for good, ATS reported.

The Federal Criminal Court ruled that there had been no violation of Swiss banking laws, and deemed that the former HSBC employee had failed to prove he had suffered any damages.

The man had produced "no element proving his allegation that he can no longer leave Switzerland," and "nothing in this case makes it possible, for instance, to conclude that he is the subject of prosecution in the United States," it said in its ruling, according to ATS.

The court also found there was no proof that the transfer of information had breached Switzerland's cherished bank secrecy practices, which have come increasingly under international pressure.

Douglas Hornung, the defence attorney in the case, harshly criticised the ruling, telling ATS it "sanctions the total absence of any protection of bank employees, ... who see their information sent to foreign prosecutors and risk criminal prosecution even though they have never done anything beyond their jobs, in strict conformity with Swiss law."

Hornung, who is defending around 40 employees and former employees of HSBC, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, insisted the fight was not finished, pointing out that he still had similar cases pending before civil courts in several Swiss cantons.

Tuesday's court ruling came as Switzerland inches closer to closing a controversial deal with the Washington, the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) that starting next year will require Swiss banks to report the holdings of their US clients to US tax authorities.


© 2013 AFP

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