Spain refuses to hand over ex-HSBC worker

MADRID (AP) - Spain's National Court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing a former HSBC employee to Switzerland, where he faces charges of stealing and revealing client information.

A statement said that the court rejected the charges that Swiss authorities had wanted to bring against Herve Falciani, who allegedly stole information between 2006 and 2007 relating to 24,000 customers of the Swiss division of HSBC.

Details of the accounts were sent to France's former finance minister, Christine Lagarde _ now head of the International Monetary Fund _ who passed them on to other governments in the U.S. and European Union. The move exposed many of HSBC's Swiss clients to prosecution for tax evasion as well as adding political pressure on Switzerland to crack down the practice.

The court statement said two of the Swiss charges _ revelation of secrets and infringing client confidentiality _ could not be used to protect suspected illegal activities. It said one other _ bank secrecy _ did not exist in Spain. Regarding a fourth charge of financial espionage, the court said Switzerland was using this for its own interests and not those of other states, and as such it could not be taken as a base for extradition.

The court said it was lifting all restrictions against Falciani, allowing him to leave Spain if he chooses. He has French and Italian citizenship.

A former employee of global banking group HSBC, Falciani was arrested in July 2012 after he left France by sea and tried to enter Spain through the northeastern port of Barcelona.

The court released him last December but withdrew his passport. It argued then that Falciani was cooperating with investigators from several European countries in probes into tax evasion, money-laundering and terrorism financing.

In an interview with El Pais newspaper last month, Falciani, 40, said it was U.S. Justice Department officials who originally suggested he should go to Spain because he was in danger.

At an extradition hearing April 15, Falciani said that he told Swiss authorities in 2008 about what he had discovered at HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA, but that they refused to let him make an anonymous complaint.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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