If you’re hoping that the myriads of corruptos named in the Panama Papers will be brought to justice, Switzerland has some bad news for you:
Switzerland has sentenced a former bank IT employee referred to as the “Edward Snowden of tax evasion” to five years in prison for leaking records on 106,000 account holders, including about 1,800 from Canada, in a move that led to billions of dollars in unpaid taxes being recovered by countries around the world.
Whistleblower Hervé Falciani, a former head of computer security at HSBC’s private banking arm in Geneva, was sentenced in absentia Friday after being convicted of corporate espionage for taking records that showed the bank helped hide the equivalent of $255 billion of clients’ money.
In a 2010 interview with CBC News in Nice, France, he said he was driven by profound qualms about the secrecy of the Swiss banking industry and how it enabled wealthy people around the world to shield money from tax authorities.
“I came to the point that something was very wrong and should be changed,” he said. “A huge industry is made just to go around rules that we can’t go around as simple citizens.”
The Falciani revelations were among the first in a series of leaks of offshore banking data in recent years that have exposed how wealthy people worldwide use networks of secret accounts and shell corporations to hide income and avoid or evade tax.
But Swiss authorities and HSBC have maintained that Falciani’s actions amounted to theft. He was finally charged last December following a six-year investigation, with the country’s attorney general alleging Falciani was motivated by profit and tried to sell the account info he took.
A month prior, France had indicted HSBC on allegations the bank helped launder the proceeds of tax fraud through the same Swiss private banking accounts.
A separate Swiss investigation into HSBC resulted in the bank paying a $53-million settlement and avoiding criminal charges. Switzerland has not charged any HSBC bankers or executives.
U.S. and Belgian authorities are still looking into the bank.
Canada never brought tax evasion charges against any of HSBC’s Canadian account holders.
How many millions — or billions — of unpaid taxes does this mean for Canada? Nobody knows the precise figure yet. But if you’re wondering who enabled this, Stephen Fucking Harper‘s name comes up a lot. He was no friend of the common Canadian, but a very good buddy of the ultra-privileged tax evader who is only a Canadian of convenience.
And while these high-level criminals are going chronically unpunished, those who expose them are being sentenced to prison in absentia. Lovely.
Whoever blew the whistle on Mossack Fonseca, I can now understand why they chose not to be identified. This is probably just a hint of what’s in store for them. And Panamanian prisons are undoubtedly a lot uglier than their Swiss counterparts.