HSBC 'SwissLeaks' leaker urges more support for whistleblowers

GENEVA (AFP) - The man who stole the trove of secret files that sparked a global scandal over banking giant HSBC's alleged assistance to wealthy tax dodgers called Monday for more protections for whistleblowers.

Herve Falciani, the former HSBC employee behind the so-called SwissLeaks revelations, said far more needed to be done to protect whistleblowers like himself, including financial support.

"If you want to counterbalance impunity, you have to provide the means to do so," he told Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

The French-Italian former IT worker at HSBC's Swiss banking arm took client data in 2007 and handed it over to French authorities.

The cache of files, which caused global shockwaves Monday after being made public, included the names of celebrities, alleged arms dealers and politicians.

The documents published at the weekend claim the London-based bank's Swiss division helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion (104 billion euros).

Falciani, who is wanted in Switzerland for data theft, said France had provided him with physical protection.

But, he said, there was also a need for "protections that are not only physical, but also professional, reputational and legal."

Asked whether he thought whistleblowers should receive financial compensation, he said: "Of course." "You must not be naive. We are made of flesh and bones... we cannot do this merely with the energy of our own despair," he told RTS.

Falciani, who has been accused of stealing the files with the intent to sell the sensitive information on to third parties to line his pockets, denied that he had ever been paid.

He also stressed that there were many other whistleblowers out there who desperately needed support, pointing out that protecting them properly would inspire others to take the leap.

"There are all of the others who are in the rear ... and who are only waiting for a little bit of justice before stepping forward to serve the community," he said.

Falciani also joined calls for Switzerland to open an investigation into HSBC, which is already facing prosecution in France and Belgium.

"I hope they will have enough energy left after investigating me for the past six years to investigate the bank," he said, adding: "That's the least they can do."

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