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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: rudolf elmer, swiss banks, switzerland, whistleblowing
Companies: julius baer, wikileaks

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:28pm

    Whistleblowing v Coverup

    There must be some way to determine when a whistleblower is committing treason (putting actual lives immediately in jeopardy, or soon) and when they are just embarrassing someone for their ill-behavior. The problem in many if not most instances is that it is politicians that make those decisions. Politicians protecting their own asses.

    The issue needs to be resolved universally. Not just the US. Not just the EU. Not just some others, but by everybody. Don't suggest the ineffectual UN, whatever they do has no actual power. The resolution needs to be acclaimed by every government.

    Now we know that some governments will not adhere to any policy that allows whistleblowers any kind of consideration. How might we categorize those governments? Dictatorships? Power hungry sudo democratics? Self proclaimed democratic oligarchy's? Something else?

    Knowing the the character of such governments is not the end. Doing something about the character of such governments is. Now I am not suggesting that multiple violent revolutions take place, but revolution, in other forms, must begin. Or 1984 become more of a reality than it already is. Not jut here, in the US, but around the world. We cannot let that happen.

    They have some power. But there are a lot more of us than there are of them. Yes they have the police and military on their side, for now. And yes, in the transition stages some of those may try to achieve the power under the guise of righteousness. But in the end, there are more of us than them. We need to be careful, yet forceful. We need to energize the populace. Not just here, but everywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    John Smith, 20 Oct 2018 @ 11:29am

    Just like laws against street crime make bad neighborhoods safer, or restraining orders make abuse victims safer!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Oct 2018 @ 5:42am

    Re: Whistleblowing v Coverup

    Sovereignty tends to get in the way of that, AAC.

    I agree with you in principle, though.

    Treason doesn't always put actual lives in immediate jeopardy, it's more about giving an enemy of the state an advantage by providing them with assistance or information.

    Neither Manning nor Snowden committed treason by any metric, they just exposed government malfeasance of the same kind perpetrated by governments in more repressive regimes, thereby stripping the USA of any moral cover or the right to call itself the leader of the free world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Oct 2018 @ 5:42am


    Laws don't make people safer, enforcing them does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.