Swiss banker who turned to WikiLeaks admits errors

Last Updated: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 00:23

Zurich: A Swiss banker who claims to have
handed WikiLeaks details of rich tax cheats acknowledged on Wednesday
that he made mistakes in his effort to expose the world of
offshore tax evasion.

Rudolf Elmer said his nine-year campaign against former
employer Bank Julius Baer was marred by missteps, as he
awaited sentencing before a Zurich court on charges of
coercion and breaking Switzerland`s strict bank secrecy laws.

"I made big mistakes, I admit that," he told reporters
during a break before the verdict. "I wouldn`t say I`m a hero,
but also not that I`m a traitor."

Zurich prosecutors allege that Elmer stole client data
after being fired from his job at the Cayman Islands branch of
Julius Baer, and then tried to extort money from the
Swiss-based bank and its senior executives.

Prosecutor Alexandra Bergmann also alleges that Elmer,
55, illegally gave details on the bank`s offshore clients to
tax authorities, media and later WikiLeaks.

Elmer claims he was being persecuted by the bank.

"I was in an extreme situation," he said. "It`s logical
that I developed a defense strategy."

Elmer said he was also trying to expose a widespread
system of tax evasion by rich businesspeople and politicians.

The case has generated intense interest abroad because of
the link to WikiLeaks, and in Switzerland, where bank client
privacy has a special place in the national psyche.

Several Swiss banks including UBS AG and Credit Suisse
Group have suffered embarrassing data leaks in recent years,
some at the hands of disgruntled employees.

Appearing before a single judge at Zurich`s
administrative court today, Elmer admitted sending threatening
messages to some bank officials, but insisted he had done so
after the bank fired him from his job as chief operating
office on the Cayman Islands and then intimidated him.

He denied issuing a bomb threat against the bank, but
admitted threatening to send details on its exclusive offshore
clients to tax authorities in Switzerland, Britain and the
United States. Elmer said the data would also be sent to
Neo-Nazi groups "and other organizations which fight the
capitalism (sic)," according to a prosecution statement.

Prosecutors say authorities have launched at least one
tax evasion case after receiving the data.

The prosecution case against Elmer, who claims to have
suffered physical and psychological illness as a result of his
treatment by the bank, reads like a mix of farce and Jason
Bourne novel.

Elmer was fired in 2002 after refusing to take a lie
detector test on the Cayman Islands, where he had worked for
the bank for eight years.

Prosecutors claim he spent the next few years moving
between Switzerland, the Isle of Man, Germany, Austria and
Mauritius. At times he is alleged to have offered to sell
stolen data back to Julius Baer, at times he threatened to
expose what he described as "unethical or even criminal
behaviour" by the bank`s senior management.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 00:23

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