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November 22, 2017
Sunday, December 13, 2015

‘They have tried to crush me like an insect’

Stephanie Gibaud talks to the Herald in Paris.
Stephanie Gibaud talks to the Herald in Paris.
Stephanie Gibaud talks to the Herald in Paris.
By Fermín Koop
Herald Staff

UBS whistleblower Gibaud surprised at Prat-Gay appointment due to alleged ties to HSBC

PARIS —When Stéphanie Gibaud discovered that her work as the head of communications at the French branch of UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, was being used to illegally attract some of the world’s wealthiest to evade taxes, she became a whistleblower.

Gibaud then became one of the world’s best-known purveyor of secrets from the banking sector. More recently, she was a candidate at the recent regional elections in France, obtaining six percent of the votes in the Ile-de-France region as a member of Nicolas Dupont’s France Arise party.

Speaking to the Herald in a café near Place du Châtelet, Gibaud questioned the appointment of Alfonso Prat-Gay as Finance minister due to his involvement in the HSBC tax scandal.

She also described as “shocking” how Marine Le Pen’s National Front won so much support in the elections, saying the far-right leader appears to have benefited from the recent terrorist attacks.

Why did HSBC, UBS and other banks specifically target Latin America to find clients who were looking to stash their money away from the taxman?

After the US started asking more questions in 2009, Switzerland reacted thinking Europe would follow so they shifted their focus to the BRICS and other countries like Argentina. They are now biding their time before the automatic exchange of information begins in 2018. If you’re a gangster like the bankers are, that means you still have plenty of time to do illegal business. We wouldn’t have drug dealers and weapon smugglers if banks weren’t helping to cover that up.

How did your work with Argentina’s AFIP tax bureau started?

It started thanks to Hervé (Falciani, the whistleblower behind the biggest bank leak in history), who knew (former AFIP head Ricardo) Echegaray. The three of us had a meeting in September last year. Hervé said he would be delighted to help the AFIP and the Economy Ministry understand how the offshore business works. He introduced me to Echegaray and explained I was working for UBS. The congressional commission (investigating undeclared HSBC accounts) members then came to Paris and I described how UBS changed its focus to Latin America.

Do you see Argentina taking a more active role in trying to target tax evaders than other countries?

It’s the beginning of something. It’s the first country to do something like this. People are now aware of what’s going on. But now we’ll see if they really want to clean things up or not.

You recently met with Julian Assange, how did that go?

It was a three-hour meeting, very productive. We talked about US politicians with offshore accounts at UBS. I talked to him about creating a platform for whistleblowers as we need much more help than the one we receive.

Falciani was recently sentenced to five years in prison for espionage. Were you surprised by the ruling?

It’s not bad as he is not being prosecuted for violating bank secrecy. It means it’s a big joke. No one can believe Switzerland. It doesn’t make sense.

Did controls and regulations on banks increase after you and Falciani blew the whistle on tax evasion tactics?

We shone a bit of light on something that was extremely dark. Without us no one would ever have known. People can’t say now that they ignore it. We live in a world where banks are extremely powerful and connected to politicians. They are always many steps ahead of the laws. It’s the most profitable, dangerous and criminal business ever.

How’s your daily life now after everything that happened?

It has been terrible. My case is different from Hervé, they tried to crush me like an insect. I wasn’t alive anymore. I worked at Customs for a while and then I wrote my book and started to become better known. Now I’m travelling a lot to give talks and chat with the media.

You received six percent of the votes during the recent regional elections. Were you expecting a better performance?

It’s not bad. We were supposed to get around 10 percent but because of the attacks electors sent a signal to the government and voted for the National Front. That’s extremely shocking. On a national level it is worse. In six regions of 13 the National Front came out on top. They are people who are completely disconnected with the everyday problems of citizens.

What are the reasons behind this most recent shift by voters?

It has been like this for a couple of years but it’s still a shock. The National Front had already won in cities and now they will manage regions. The government for the last 20 years hasn’t listened to the citizens.

How did the terrorist attacks influence the elections?

A lot, that’s why we got fewer votes than we were expecting. But it’s not the first time that it happened and the government was unable to manage the problem. We’re supposed to be the country of human rights and people are scared, we’ve been told that it’s only the beginning.

What will a growing National Front mean for France?

They aren’t going to change anything. They’re the same guys as before. There used to be two big parties in France and now there are three but they are the same families. It’s the same gang, many of them with undeclared accounts in Switzerland.

Why did you join Nicolas Dupont’s France Arise?

I know that he is the only party president who has no hidden stories, no offshore accounts and no dirty business.

France announced a plan this week to give whistleblowers like you more protection. Could that encourage more people to come forward?

France was forced to do something because our stories have become so well-known around the world. People like us aren’t protected. Hervé has bodyguards and no one knows where he is. It took my life away. It takes your career, your job, your money. You pay huge legal fees to defend yourself even though you’re the one who is telling the truth.

Newly sworn-in Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay allegedly had an undeclared account in the Swiss branch of HSBC. Could that lead the new administration to hit the brakes on the HSBC investigation?

It’s shocking that the government appointed him considering the work that has been done by AFIP. I was supposed to go to Buenos Aires to train investigators and explain the strategy I saw play out in UBS. I had prepared a lot of things but they said they didn’t have the budget and that I could go next year. We’ll see what happens now.

@ferminkoop

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