March 11, 2010

HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) reported and apologized today for an incident in which a former IT employee stole account information for 15,000 Swiss-based accounts. Earlier this month, the Swiss authorities passed data files to the bank which showed that client information had been compromised. As a result, the bank is contacting customers to explain and apologize for the threat to their privacy. The bank does not believe that the stolen data has or will allow any third party to access any client account.

The bank says the stolen client information is limited to accounts in Switzerland that existed before October 2006, excluding ex-HSBC Guyerzeller accounts. But according to ABC News, 9,000 additional accounts were affected that have been closed. ABC reported that the perpetrator, Herve Falciani, a former HSBC computer specialist, stole client data from the bank, transferred the data onto a computer other than the one the bank issued him and fled to neighboring France while under investigation. French authorities seized the files and passed copies to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor. The news service France 24 reported in December that Falciani and another former HSBC staffer had tried to sell the data in Lebanon.

"We deeply regret this situation and unreservedly apologise to our clients for this threat to their privacy," said Alexandre Zeller, CEO of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), in a statement. "We are determined to protect our clients' interests and are taking every necessary measure to do so, actively contacting all our clients with Swiss-based accounts."

The bank says it is cooperating with the Swiss authorities and continues its own investigations, and a criminal investigation led by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor is underway. The Swiss authorities have said they will not support the use of the stolen data to answer requests from foreign authorities. French authorities have informed the Swiss authorities that the data they hold will not be used inappropriately.

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