Data leak hits HSBC clients

THOUSANDS of clients of HSBC’s Swiss private banking division, including wealthy Britons with off-shore accounts in the country, have been affected after a former employee of the bank filched personal information about account-holders.

HSBC confirmed yesterday that a total of 24,000 people had been compromised in the case, which is now under criminal investigation by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor. They include 15,000 current clients of the bank and 9,000 former clients who held accounts with the bank in Switzerland prior to October 2006.

The news sent shock waves through the City, Canary Wharf and Mayfair, since a large proportion of those affected are thought to be high-earning UK citizens holding chunks of their wealth offshore.

Alexandre Zeller, chief executive of HSBC Private Bank in the country, yesterday apologised “unreservedly” for the threat to client privacy.

“We deeply regret this situation,” he said. “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 added that it has spent over 100m Swiss francs (£62.2m) on upgrading its security systems to prevent against future threats.

The former employee, computer systems expert Hervé Falciani, was arrested after trying to sell the stolen information to French authorities last year.

France later returned the files to Switzerland and copies of a “significant portion” of the missing data were handed back to HSBC earlier this month.