MADRID (AP) — A man wanted by Switzerland on suspicion of stealing confidential banking information now being used by international financial investigators says U.S. officials warned him he was in danger and advised him to go to Spain, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Herve Falciani, a former employee of global banking group HSBC, was arrested in July after he left France by sea and tried to enter Spain through the northeastern port of Barcelona.
In December, Spain's National Court released him after authorities argued Falciani was cooperating with investigators from several European countries in probes into tax evasion, money-laundering and terrorism financing.
He is now fighting extradition to Switzerland, where he is accused of stealing information between 2006 and 2007 related to at least 24,000 customers with private accounts with the Swiss division of HSBC.
In a lengthy interview published in El Pais newspaper, the 40-year-old is quoted as saying that he was cooperating with U.S. Justice Department officials when he was told to head for Spain.
"They told me that from that moment my life was at risk," Falciani says. "They told me the only safe place in Europe was Spain."
The paper quotes Falciani as saying that American authorities advised him on what day to travel — July 1.
"They even knew which judge would be on duty when I arrived," he is quoted as saying.
The paper says Falciani used his finger in a side-to-side horizontal movement across his neck to reinforce the point that his life was in danger.
"The United States had warned me just before (his departure to Spain) that it would easy for someone to pay to try to get me killed."
U.S. officials did not immediately offer comment on the claims.
Falciani also is accused of breaching banking secrecy, including allegedly releasing a list of names of HSBC private customers to French officials in 2008, the year he fled Switzerland for France.
France's former finance minister, Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, passed the list on to the U.S. and several European Union countries, thereby exposing many of the bank's clients to prosecution for tax evasion.
The documents have added more pressure on Switzerland from its European neighbors and the United States to crack down on tax evasion.
Falciani, who has French and Italian citizenship, could be sentenced to a seven-year jail term in Switzerland if extradited and convicted.
At an extradition hearing on 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.