MADRID (AP) -- Spain's National Court has begun an extradition hearing for a former HSBC employee wanted in Switzerland for allegedly stealing and handing over confidential information related to thousands of customers with private Swiss accounts.
Herve Falciani, a French-Italian citizen, between 2006 and 2007 allegedly stole data linked to at least 24,000 customers of HSBC's Swiss subsidiary while he worked in the bank's information technology development unit. He then passed the customer list on to French authorities.
France's former Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, then relayed the list to the U.S. and several European Union countries, thereby exposing many of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA's customers to prosecution for tax evasion.
Swiss authorities want to extradite Falciani back to Switzerland to face charges of allegedly revealing secrets and breach of banking secrecy — which could lead to a seven-year jail term.
Spanish politicians have opposed Falciani's extradition back to Switzerland to face the charges of illegally obtaining client data, saying he is helping authorities investigate tax fraud, a touchy issue given Spain's recession and sky-high unemployment.
Falciani fled Switzerland to France in 2008 and was held in custody in July last year after being arrested on a Swiss warrant while he was in the northeastern city of Barcelona.
In December 2012, the National Court released him after the Spanish authorities argued Falciani was cooperating with authorities in several European countries in investigations into tax evasion, money-laundering, corruption and terrorism financing. The Spanish state prosecutor noted Falciani has been detained for some time and that his extradition case could drag on.
Falciani was released on condition he handed over his passport, did not leave Spain and reported to a police station every three days. He was also ordered to establish a residence in Spain and to inform authorities if he moved house.
Also attending today's proceedings as witnesses were Carlos Ocana, an Economy Ministry official in the previous Socialist government and Luis Pedroche of Spain's National Audit Office.
Eric de Montgolfier, who in 2009 while Public Prosecutor for the French city of Nice opened a probe into possible money laundering, was also present as a witness. Since April 2012 Montgolfier has been prosecutor in the city of Bourges.
HSBC PLC said offering private banking services for rich customers remained "a core business" of the group which has about 100,000 private banking clients.
Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.