Geneva: A former top Swiss private banking executive turned WikiLeaks collaborator was found guilty on Wednesday by a Zurich court of violating bank secrecy, attempted coercion and sending threatening letters.
But Rudolf Elmer, who once worked for Julius Baer Bank, managed to avoid the jail-time prosecutors sought. Instead, he received a fine of some 7,200 Swiss francs ($7,500), suspended for two years. He will also have to pay court fees.
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He was charged with divulging information about Julius Baer customers and the bank, in violation of client privacy and corporate secrecy laws.
Earlier this week Elmer said that in 2005 he was detained by Swiss authorities for 30 days, apparently in connection with his violations of client confidentiality.
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The one-time executive admitted in the Zurich courtroom to having revealed some information, but says he was a whistleblower, aiming to expose wrongdoings by the financial sector regarding tax evasion assistance to wealthy international clients.
Elmer’s lawyers also argued that Switzerland’s strict secrecy laws, which regulate Julius Baer, did not apply in the Cayman Islands, where Elmer was based for eight years.
The Zurich-based wealth management group said that after it sacked the 55-year-old in 2002, Elmer tried to extort money and, when that failed, he made secret bank data public by handing it over to tax authorities.
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The ex-banker tells a similar story, but alleges the firm offered him cash to keep quiet about its business practices.
In court, Elmer denied claims that he sent bomb threats, but admitted to dispatching anonymous threatening letters to bank staff.
At the time he sent the messages, he told the court, he was being followed by detectives hired by Julius Baer, causing intense psychological pressure. His daughter, the former banker related, was afraid to go to kindergarten during that period because of the men who tracked the family’s moves.
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Zurich prosecutors were seeking a smaller fine, but had their eyes set on an eight-month jail term. They told a judge that Elmer was not a true whistleblower, a status that would offer him some protection.
Claiming he was seeking to expose wrongdoings was merely a ‘defence strategy’, Zurich’s prosecutors argued.
Earlier this week, Elmer added to the controversy by giving whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks two disks, which he said contained data on 2,000 clients of several elite Swiss banks.
One report in a Swiss newspaper said the disks has recent data on clients going up to 2009.
It was the second time he has supplied banking information to the website, having first submitted data on Julius Baer in 2008, raising WikiLeaks’ profile internationally after the bank tried to shut down the site.
The trial comes at a critical juncture for the once prized banking secrecy tradition. Banks in countries with confidentiality laws are facing heat, as more foreign governments, including Germany, are agreeing to pay money for stolen disks that contain information on tax-dodging clients.