«Am I a thief? Yes, I did break the law – but it was a law that hurt everyone. (…) If you work for the system, you understand the system. And that is what became unbearable.» (Hervé Falciani)

Ten years ago, Julian Assange founded the online site Wikileaks, an open digital library of sensitive information related to military operations and other controversial revelations. Whilst the term whistle blower is far from new, the phenomenon has been subject to extensive media attention over the past decade, which has added to the impact of a whistle blower’s agenda.

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Whistle blowers such as Assange, Chelsey Manning and Edward Snowden are hailed as heroes and celebrities, but they pay the price in terms of lengthy exiles and loss of past livelihoods.

The role of a whistle blower constitutes a refreshing change from more traditional heroic personas, and are increasingly often portrayed in fictional films and documentaries. Examples include Bill Condon’s thriller The Fifth Estate (2013) about Julian Assange, Laura Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour (2014) on Edward Snowden, and Oliver Stones’ current release Snowden (2016).

Catchy and impersonal. The story about IT-engineer Hervé Falciani illustrates how an invisible civil servant helped pulverise an institution which has been central to the world’s financial elite, with roots dating back to the French Revolution; Das Bankgeheimnis, or banking secrecy.

Director Ben Lewis is better known for the documentaries Hammer & Tickle (2006), Google and the World Brain (2013), and Poor Us: An American History of Poverty (2012). In Falciani’s Tax Bomb, Lewis untangles Falcani’s whistle blowing adventure in a harsh, catchy and detailed documentary featuring well-informed interviewees. The graphic and musical elements conjure up financial thrillers such as James Bond and Jason Bourne. The film is not a deeply personal portrait of the main character, and the director offers nothing more than a superficial attempt at understanding Falciani’s motivation and relationship with his employer HSBC.

Whitewash. According to Assistant Professor Gabriel Zucman, London School of Economics, Switzerland is the world’s foremost centre for cross-border wealth management: some eight percent of the world’s wealth is kept in tax havens, with around a third of this managed by Swiss banks. Former Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz explains that banking secrecy has always been Switzerland’s premier competitive advantage as part of its role as the hub of the financial world. Merz’s defends banking secrecy with the argument that it protects the private sphere, an important principle dating back to the era of enlightenment.

Hervé Falciani grew up in Monaco and worked as an accountant at a casino whilst studying to be an IT engineer. In 2001, he was hired by the world’s second largest bank, HSBC Private Bank, in Zürich. Through his work on databases, he realised that the strict code of secrecy in Swiss banks allowed for international tax evasion and money laundering.

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