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Trial of former HSBC banker Herve Falciani, the 'Snowden of tax evasion,' starts in Switzerland

The trial has begun in Switzerland of banker Herve Falciani, whose leaks helped uncover the HSBC tax evasion scandal. The French-Italian national is accused of financial espionage, among other charges.

Herve Falciani's trial opened on Monday in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona and will continue despite his refusal to attend court.

His previous absence caused the trial to be delayed by a month.

Current and former employees of HSBC's Geneva branch are expected to give evidence.

The 43-year-old has repeatedly said he would not travel to Switzerland, despite living in Divonne, France, just a stone's throw from the Swiss border near Geneva. As a French national, Falciani cannot be extradited to Switzerland. But he said he would be willing to explain his position to a court in another jurisdiction.

"I am not going," Falciani told reporters last week, questioning the possibility of obtaining a fair trial in Switzerland.

Also on Monday, in a new twist in the scandal, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Falciani had asked for "protection" from Indian authorities if he were to cooperate in a nationwide probe into illegal money dealing. He told PTI that he could show how millions of euros of illicit funds were flowing out of India.

"It is not about money. I don't intend to become rich," Falciani said when asked whether he was looking for money to share information with India.

Whistleblower

Falciani was described as a whistleblower in many European countries after he revealed how banking giant HSBC allegedly helped clients with Swiss bank accounts to evade billions of euros in taxes.

His disclosure was one of the largest leaks of banking data in history. It became known as the "Lagarde List," which was linked to former French Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde, who in turn, sent it on to other governments in the European Union (EU) and the US.

But Swiss prosecutors remained intent on prosecuting Falciani, which the former bank IT worker said was due to pressure from HSBC, one of the world's biggest banks.

Falciani leaked documents that alleged that HSBC's Swiss private banking arm helped more than 120,000 clients to hide 180.6 billion euros ($205 billion) from tax authorities.

HSBC transformation

The bank insists its Swiss business has "undergone a radical transformation" since the scandal.

On Monday, HSBC

announced that its third-quarter profit rose 32 percent year on year to 5.52 billion euros ($6.1 billion),

about a billion euros above analysts' forecasts.

The company cited a steep drop in fines for past misconduct and fewer litigation costs as reasons for the spike.

In June, the London-headquartered bank

announced plans to cut up to 25,000 jobs. Swiss prosecutors closed their investigation into HSBC's alleged wrongdoings in June

after negotiations which saw the bank pay tens of millions of dollars in compensation in return for not facing criminal charges. No current employees of HSBC have been prosecuted.

mm/jm (AFP, PTI, Reuters)

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