Swiss Banker Linked to WikiLeaks Found Guilty

Wednesday, 19 Jan 2011 02:21 PM

 

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A Swiss banker who publicized private client data on WikiLeaks was found guilty on Wednesday of breaching strict banking secrecy and threatening former colleagues, but was given only a suspended fine.

Judge Sebastian Aeppli acquitted Rudolf Elmer on charges he sought $50,000 for returning client data to former employer Julius Baer and that he made a bomb threat to the bank's headquarters.

Elmer, who helped bring WikiLeaks to prominence three years ago when he used it to publish secret client details and who handed over new data to the website on Monday, had admitted sending Julius Baer data to tax authorities.

But he had denied blackmail and a bomb threat against Julius Baer and said he never took payments in return for secret data.

The court sentenced him to a fine of 7,200 Swiss francs ($7,505), suspended for two years, without giving reasons as they will come in a written judgment. The prosecution had demanded for eight months jail and a fine of 2,000 francs.

The defense will decide whether to appeal within 10 days.
Elmer, 55, spent a month in investigative custody in 2005 when the charges were first made against him.

"I am a critic of the system and want to tell society what happens in these murky oases," Elmer, who ran the Cayman Islands branch of the Swiss bank dedicated to wealthy clients until he was fired in 2002, told a news conference before the verdict.

Elmer said Baer waged a campaign of "psychoterror" against him and his family and offered him 500,000 francs to keep quiet. He said he had never taken payments in return for secret data.

But he admitted writing anonymous emails in 2005 threatening to send client details to tax authorities and the media if Julius Baer did not stop unspecified actions.

"The situation was very threatening. We were very scared and I thought the bank was behind it. That is why I sent the emails," Elmer told the court.

Wearing a black suit and a red shirt, Elmer also admitted charges that he sent client details to Swiss tax authorities, but he denied threats against former colleagues.

WHISTLEBLOWER?

Julius Baer, which has denied its Cayman branch was used for tax dodging, says Elmer waged a "campaign of personal intimidation and vendetta" against the bank after it refused his demands for financial compensation following his 2002 dismissal.

"We have supported the prosecution, the judge largely followed the prosecutor's argument," said Kurt Langhard, a lawyer for Julius Baer. "We are satisfied."

Speaking in court, Prosecutor Alexandra Bergmann said Elmer had cultivated the image of whistleblower only later in his dispute with Baer.

"While he was working on the Cayman Islands he didn't question the system as such," Bergmann said.

Elmer's lawyer, Ganden Tethong Blattner, said her client and his family had paid for standing up to a powerful opponent.

"This is the story of a man who discovered misdeeds and was under constant surveillance for more than a year. This great pressure was aimed at silencing him," she said.

Wednesday's case does not concern his publication of bank data on WikiLeaks, but earlier alleged breaches of bank and corporate secrecy in Switzerland and threats against Baer.

About a dozen protesters from the left-wing Alternative Liste party had gathered outside the court, holding up a banner, saying: "They want to hang Rudi, they let Kaspar off the hook", in a reference to UBS chairman Kaspar Villiger.

Switzerland last year gave details of about 4,450 UBS accounts to U.S. authorities as part of a deal to settle a tax probe into its biggest bank despite strict secrecy laws. None of its bankers were prosecuted in Switzerland.

Elmer, a certified auditor who also worked at Credit Suisse and KPMG, had argued Swiss bank secrecy should not apply, since the documents he leaked referred to accounts in Cayman.

Swiss bank secrecy has come under global attack in recent years, with neighboring Germany buying secret data from informants in its bid to track down tax evaders.

On Monday, the banker handed over compact discs he said contained information on some 2,000 offshore banking clients to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a media event in London.

After Elmer initially used WikiLeaks to leak secret data, Julius Baer tried to get the website blocked in 2008 but later dropped its bid after an outcry from free-speech advocates.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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