“Whistleblower” avoids jail sentence at Swiss trial

Former Swiss
banker turned whistleblower Rudolf Elmer appeared before a Zurich court today to
face charges of breaking Swiss banking secrecy laws and coercion. He was fined
7,200 Swiss francs, but avoided a possible eight month
jail sentence.  

Mr. Elmer
admitted to having sent threatening letters to his former employer, Julius Baer
bank, claiming that after attempts by the bank to intimidate him, he needed to
devise a defense strategy. However, he denied having made bomb threats against
the bank.

Prosecutors
in the case accused Mr. Elmer of attempted coercion of the bank, allegedly
demanding 50,000 francs for CDs containing some of the bank’s client
information. He is alleged to have subsequently passed on the data to Wikileaks,
which published the information in 2008. 

The trial
came two days after Mr. Elmer handed another two CDs with bank client data to
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in
London.

Mr. Elmer
claims the data contains bank account details for approximately 2,000 offshore
bank accounts, some of them belonging to multinational companies, well known
businessmen and politicians.

At the news
conference in London, Mr. Elmer portrayed himself as a whistleblower who would
like to educate the public about how offshore banking secrecy works and the
roles offshore banking plays in tax evasion and money
laundering.

Julius Baer claims that he acted out of revenge after being sacked from his position
as chief operating officer with the bank in the Cayman Islands in
2002.

“After his
demands (including financial compensation) in connection with the dismissal
could not be satisfied, Mr Elmer embarked in 2004 on a personal intimidation
campaign and vendetta against Julius Baer,” the bank said in a
statement.

“To back up
his campaign, he also used falsified documents and made death threats against
employees,” the statement added.

In 2008,
Julius Baer initially attempted to prevent WikiLeaks from publishing any of its
customer information, but a US court’s injunction against the website was
overturned on appeal.

Swiss media
have focused on Mr. Elmer’s personality and at times erratic behaviour, fuelling
doubts over his motives. Mr. Elmer said his portrayal as “a paranoid or mentally
ill person” in the media was part of a smear campaign to silence
him.

Critics
accuse Mr. Elmer of stealing the banking data for financial gain rather than the
desire to expose illegal activities. Mr. Elmer, by his own admission, has
contacted Swiss, US and German authorities with the information obtained from
Julius Baer. As part of tax evasion investigations, the German government in
particular has in the past paid for stolen Swiss banking data, but none of the
authorities has done more than to express an interest in the data offered by Mr.
Elmer.

Wikileaks
said it could take weeks before the offshore bank account information from the
Cayman Islands handed over to them would be published, as it first has to be
reviewed.

Cayman
Finance issued a statement in response to the events, saying that the US
government would not be gaining access to new information.

“This
information is of historic interest only,” said Anthony Travers, chairman of
Cayman Finance, referring to the “long and established record of banking
transparency and a willingness to share information – not only with the United
States and 20 other jurisdictions with which it has tax information exchange
agreements, but with all 27 members of the European Union.”

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