September 19, 2020

WikiLeaks banker [Cayman Islands] called traitor as prosecutor seeks jail


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45455768By Jeffrey Vögeli From Bloomberg

A Swiss banker accused of revealing details of tax-dodging clients on WikiLeaks is a traitor who should be sentenced to three and a half years in prison, prosecutors said.

Rudolf Elmer, formerly employed by Julius Baer Group Ltd. (BAER) as chief operating officer of a Cayman Islands unit, “calls himself a whistle-blower, thus dressing himself in a cloak of legitimacy,” prosecutor Peter Giger said in closing arguments. “He is a pure traitor who fought the bank again and again under the pretense of humanitarian ideas.”

Elmer, 59, is accused of violating the country’s financial secrecy laws in what he says was an effort to raise awareness of the use of Swiss bank accounts for illegal activity including tax evasion. He also allegedly offered bank data to the German government and fabricated a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the Swiss bank, advising her to close an account she never had. Countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Germany have used testimony from former Swiss bankers or stolen client data to pursue offshore tax dodgers.

While such cases are not uncommon in Switzerland, where for almost a century the principle of bank secrecy has been enforced by laws that carry prison terms for offenders, Elmer’s trial has attracted more attention than most. That’s partly because the bank data transfer involved a website that has drawn the ire of the U.S. and other governments around the world for publishing confidential documents under an avowed commitment to increased transparency.

Verdict Pending

The trial resumed for the first time since Elmer collapsed at the opening on Dec. 10, forcing the court to postpone the proceedings. His lawyer, Ganden Tethong, said he is still not well but he seemed in better condition. Unlike last month, when he wore a hooded sweatshirt to court, he was dressed in a suit today and exchanged smiles with people in the gallery.

Elmer’s lawyer asked the court to clear him of all charges, saying the statute of limitations had run out on one count. She also argued that Swiss law doesn’t apply because the alleged offenses didn’t occur in Switzerland and because he wasn’t actually employed by the bank at the time. The state should cover his legal costs and compensate him for time already served and the loss of business while he was detained, Tethong said.

The prosecution argued that in addition to a prison sentence, Elmer should be banned from working as a banker and should cover the cost of the trial. The court said it would deliver its decision on Jan. 19.

Elmer, who worked at a unit of Julius Baer in the Cayman Islands until 2002, allegedly uploaded data to WikiLeaks as early as 2007. In January 2011, he gave two compact discs to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London. He said at the start of the trial in December that the discs were empty.

He was detained in January 2011 and held about five months on a judge’s order after prosecutors argued that he might tamper with evidence. Elmer has continued to campaign against an offshore banking network that he says enables wealthy people to hide money from authorities.

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