Swiss Supreme Court Clears Whistleblower of Violating Bank Secrecy Law

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 11, 2018

The Swiss Supreme Court has sided with Rudolf Elmer, a former Julius Baer banker who achieved notoriety for leaking data about how the bank assisted its wealthy clients in evading taxes through the bank's Cayman Islands subsidiary, according to Accounting Today. In Switzerland, which has a strong culture of financial privacy, breaking bank secrecy is a criminal matter. Elmer leaked confidential information about Julius Baer clients to Swiss tax authorities in 2005 and then, shortly after, allegedly sent a CD with client account data to a Swiss business magazine (he denied this specific charge). Elmer was arrested and held in jail for 30 days on these charges. In 2008, he was named as a source for Wikileaks, and in 2011 he handed two CDs to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London. It was this last incident that led prosecutors to have him arrested again, and in 2015 he was found guilty of violating Swiss bank secrecy. 

In its recent ruling, the Swiss Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a Zurich appeals court that, in 2016, overturned the secrecy violation charge. The high court determined that because the bank was in the Cayman Islands, not Switzerland, Elmer could not be guilty of violating Swiss bank secrecy law, as the subsidiary was not in fact a Swiss bank. 

The Zurich appeals court was not entirely friendly to him, however. It was skeptical of Elmer's claims that he made the leaks for reasons of conscience, finding that he was likely driven by revenge against his employer, as evidenced by a series of threatening letters he had sent to former colleagues. For this, as well as for falsifying documents, that court issued a 14-month suspended sentence, and made him responsible for all his own legal fees, which exceed 200,000 Swiss francs. 

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