Legal

Ex-Julius Baer Banker Accused Of Sending Client Data To WikiLeaks Returns To Court

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, London, 13 January 2015

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The trial of a former Swiss private banker who said he passed client data to the WikiLeaks organisation, but who said his behaviour was not a crime, resumed yesterday in the Alpine state.

The trial of a former Swiss private banker, who said he passed client data to the WikiLeaks organisation but who said his behaviour was not a crime, resumed yesterday in the Alpine state.

The court case of Rudolf Elmer was suspended over a month ago after the former Julius Baer banker had collapsed in the Zurich court. (For that report, see here.)

The case comes amid continued pressure on Switzerland’s private banking industry, which for centuries has operated under strict secrecy laws that, while they have sometimes provided protection to vulnerable groups fleeing persecution, have also been blamed for shielding illicit funds. Switzerland is home to an estimated $2.3 trillion of offshore funds, accounting for 26 per cent of all such offshore money. Its banking sector drives about 11 per cent of Swiss GDP.

Swiss banks have seen a number of leaks in recent years, with some of the data passed to the likes of Germany, and other countries, for example. Leaks have hit banks such as HSBC in Switzerland, Credit Suisse, and most recently, Banque Cantonale de Geneve, or BCGE.

The news service report said a verdict on the Elmer case is due on 19 January.

Breaching Swiss banking secrecy is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to SFr250,000 ($245,459). Elmer, a former senior executive at Zurich-based Baer's Cayman Islands' office, is accused of passing information to WikiLeaks on two occasions, one in late 2007 or early 2008 and another in 2011. Elmer acknowledged passing on information in 2007-2008.

However, Elmer's lawyer, Ganden Tethong, argued that Elmer had not broken any Swiss laws on that occasion, as he had not obtained the information as an employee of a Swiss bank. Tethong also argued that the statute of limitations regarding that information had expired.

Prosecutors are also looking into two compact discs Elmer gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a news conference in London in 2011. Elmer has since said the disks were empty. His lawyer argued that Wikileaks would have published any new information by now.

Elmer is also accused of attempting to pass confidential client files to then-German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in 2009 and of forging a letter from Julius Baer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007.

 

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