GENEVA: Swiss authorities charged a fugitive banking analyst on Thursday with data theft in what is considered to be one of the biggest security breaches in the country’s often-secretive banking sector.

The case of Herve Falciani, a former employee of global banking group HSBC, has been making headlines in Europe since he fled Switzerland in 2008. He has been accused of stealing stole information between 2006 and 2007 relating to 24,000 customers of the Swiss division of HSBC.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland says the data theft charges against the French-Italian national involve stolen bank information transmitted to Lebanese banks, the Paris-based National Directorate of Tax Investigations and other foreign authorities.

Account details were sent to former French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, who passed them on to US and European Union authorities.

Many of HSBC’s Swiss clients became exposed to prosecution for tax evasion — and the leak ratcheted up pressure on Switzerland to crack down on foreign tax cheats.

“Sometimes celebrated as a hero abroad, the Franco-Italian national is now to answer for his alleged crimes before a Swiss court,” the Swiss attorney general’s office said in a statement. “The Swiss Criminal Procedure Code does not exclude the possibility of holding a court trial of the accused person in absentia.”

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