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Europe

Whistleblower Swiss banker found guilty of breaching secrecy

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-19

Former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer has been found guilty of breaching bank secrecy and seeking to blackmail private bank Julius Baer. Elmer has admitted sending private bank data to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

AFP - A Swiss court on Wednesday found former banker Rudolf Elmer, who handed over secret data to whistleblowing website Wikileaks, guilty of breaching bank secrecy laws and handed down a suspended fine.

A judge said the 55-year-old former chief operating officer at private bank Julius Baer's subsidiary in the Cayman Islands was found guilty of seeking to blackmail the bank, making threats and violating banking secrecy laws.

Elmer was acquitted by the district court in Zurich of accusations of making a bomb hoax that were levelled by the public prosecutor during the one day trial.

Judge Sebastian Aeppli sentenced the former banker to a suspended fine of 7,200 Swiss francs (5,500 euros), noting that Elmer had "for years been a part of the banking world" and had "benefited" from this.

His motives in handing over a set of bank client data to website WikiLeaks in 2007 were therefore not to fight tax evasion, but stemmed from his dismissal from Julius Baer five years earlier, said the judge.

Elmer has claimed that he wanted the world to know the truth about money concealed in offshore accounts and tax evasion as well as the systems in place to keep it secret.

In court, he described the bank's activities as "immoral, not conform with ethics" and said they "took a criminal turn."

He denied alleged threats but acknowledged that he had sent data to Swiss tax authorities.

Defence lawyer Ganden Tethong Blattner told the trial on Wednesday that Elmer was engaged in a "David against Goliath" battle.

She argued that Swiss banking secrecy law was not applicable in the Cayman Islands, the Caribbean offshore banking haven where Elmer worked for the Julius Baer Banking and Trust Company.

However, public prosecutor Alexandra Bergmann contested the former banker's claim to be banking secrecy's whistleblower, arguing that he had only portrayed himself as such after he was dismissed.

She accused Elmer of sending an email to the bank in 2004 offering to hand over the data he held in return for 50,000 dollars (37,000 euros).

Two days before his court appearance, Elmer handed over another two CD-ROMs of bank information to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London on Monday, saying that the data stemmed from at least three financial institutions and covered a period from 1990 to 2009.

According to the former banker, the clients listed on the two latest discs include about 40 politicians, multinational companies and financial institutions from the United States, Europe and Asia.

Bank Julius Baer has described Elmer as "disgruntled and frustrated about unfulfilled career aspirations," who made "baseless accusations" after he was dismissed for undisclosed "detrimental and unacceptable" behaviour.

Swiss media have reported that some of the data the former banker leaked earlier led to tax evasion prosecutions in several countries against clients.

However, Swiss television SF1 has reported that some of the documents also turned out to be false.

A US court imposed a temporary injunction in 2008 on WikiLeaks at the request of Bank Julius Baer, closing down the whistleblowing website at the time.

 

Date created : 2011-01-19

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