Fugitive Ex-UBS Employee Faces 4 Years in Prison in Tax Case

(Bloomberg) -- Swiss prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison term for a former UBS Group AG employee accused of breaking bank secrecy laws after he allegedly stole client data and sold the information to German tax authorities.

The man, whom Bloomberg is only identifying as Rene S., failed to show up for his trial at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, delaying the start of proceedings until Tuesday afternoon. When he failed to appear Wednesday, prosecutor Carlo Bulletti asked for a four-year sentence, approaching the five-year maximum for divulging client secrets. Bulletti also sought a fine of 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,115).

The Basel native has been charged with commercial espionage, violation of Swiss banking secrecy as well as money laundering, after he bought and sold an apartment on the Spanish island of Mallorca with the 1.15 million euros ($1.32 million) he allegedly made from the data. Rene S. is also charged with possession of illegal ammunition after police found hollow-point bullets during a 2013 raid on his home.

His failure to show up for his trial has drawn comparisons with Herve Falciani, a former IT specialist at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Geneva unit accused of trying to sell bank customer data, who skipped his court date in late 2015. The Italian-French citizen, who later shared the data with French tax authorities because he said he wanted to demonstrate HSBC clients were tax evaders, was convicted of corporate espionage.

The trial at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court had originally been expected to run through Wednesday, with a verdict scheduled for Jan. 21.

German and French tax authorities have pressured UBS in recent years to comply with requests for information about their citizens they believe might be evading taxes. The Swiss Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on whether UBS must hand over data that the French tax office had first requested in 2012. The French made their petition based on information from German authorities, who had seized data as part of their own tax probe, and a series of data leaks from within Swiss banks.

Rolf Schuler, a lawyer for UBS, said the Zurich-based bank was the injured party, not German taxpayers.

UBS “fell victim to a large-scale betrayal by the German authorities,” Schuler told the court on Wednesday and should receive “reasonable compensation,” according to Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung.

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