Whistleblowing About Swiss Banks' Bad Behavior Just Became Safer
from the terms-and-conditions-apply dept
Whistleblowers play a vital role in releasing information the powerful would rather keep secret. But the former pay a high price for their bravery, as the experiences of recent whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden make plain. Another whistleblower whose life has become very difficult after leaking is Rudolf Elmer. He has a Web site about his actions and his subsequent problems, but it’s not the easiest to navigate. Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of who he is and what he did:
In 2008, Elmer illegally disclosed confidential bank documents to WikiLeaks detailing the activities of [the Swiss multinational private bank] Julius Bär in the Cayman Islands and its role in alleged tax evasion. In January 2011, he was convicted in Switzerland of breaching secrecy laws and other offenses. He was rearrested immediately thereafter for having again distributed illegally obtained data to WikiLeaks. Julius Bär as well as select Swiss and German newspapers alleges that Elmer has doctored evidence to suggest the bank engaged in tax evasion.
According to a new article about him in the Economist, Elmer has undergone no less than 48 prosecutorial interrogations, spent six months in solitary confinement and faced 70 court rulings. The good news is that he has finally won an important court case at Switzerland’s Supreme Court. The court ruled that since Elmer was employed by the Cayman Islands affiliate of the Zurich-based Julius Bär bank, he was not bound by Switzerland’s strict secrecy laws when he passed information to WikiLeaks. Here’s why that is a big deal, and not just for Elmer:
The ruling matters because Swiss banks are among the world’s most international. They employ thousands of private bankers offshore, and many more in outsourcing operations in countries like India and Poland. Many foreign employees are involved in creating structures comprising overseas companies and trusts linked to a Swiss bank account. Thanks to the ruling, as long as their employment contract is local they can now leak information on suspected tax evasion or other shenanigans without fear of falling under Switzerland’s draconian secrecy law, which imposes jail terms of up to five years on whistleblowers.
Sadly, Elmer’s problems aren’t over. According to the Economist article, he was found guilty of forging a letter and making a threat, and has been ordered to pay SFr320,000 ($325,000) towards the costs of the case. He maintains this was imposed on him as “revenge” for prevailing in the main part of his case. Certainly, in the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of whistleblowing, he is unlikely to have won any new friends in the world of Swiss banking.