ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss court on Thursday said it lacked clear evidence to rule on an appeal by a former Swiss banker turned WikiLeaks whistleblower against his conviction for breaching Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy after he revealed private client data.
Rudolf Elmer, who worked at the Cayman Islands branch of Swiss private bank Julius Baer until he was fired in 2002, helped bring WikiLeaks to prominence when he used the data to publish bank documents to expose tax evasion.
Judge Peter Marti said on Thursday it was not clear whether the CD-roms Elmer had handed over contained data of bank clients in Switzerland or just in the Cayman Islands.
“If the data also originate from Zurich, the Swiss banking law also applies. We don’t know precisely, however, what was on the CDs,” Marti told the court.
He ordered the public prosecution service and Julius Baer to prove the origins of the data on the disk, placing the onus on the Swiss bank to publish client data.
Swiss bank secrecy has come under global attack in recent years, as cash-strapped governments seek to boost revenue by cracking down on tax cheats.
Switzerland last year gave details of about 4,450 UBS accounts to U.S. authorities as part of a deal to settle a tax probe into its biggest bank despite strict secrecy laws.
A court convicted Elmer in January of breaching bank secrecy
by passing on private client data to the tax authorities and of threatening employees at his former company. He was sentenced to a fine of 7,200 Swiss francs ($7,850) suspended for two years.
Elmer, who has run the website www.swisswhistleblower.com since May 2008 and once described himself as a “Gandhi of Swiss tax law,” argued Swiss bank secrecy should not apply, since the documents he leaked referred to accounts in the Cayman Islands.
The 56-year-old said Baer waged a campaign of “psycho-terror” against him and private detectives had followed him and his family. But on Thursday he dropped charges he had brought against the bank, without giving reasons.
Elmer has admitted sending confidential bank data to tax authorities. But he denied blackmail and a bomb threat against Julius Baer and denied allegations he took payments in return for handing back secret data.
The court also said it had not been proven that it was Elmer who was behind the threatening emails.
Elmer said he had kept hold of documents on USB sticks and brought them back to Switzerland out of fear and denied being motivated by revenge after he was fired.
“I was afraid something could happen to me,” he told the court.
Elmer’s lawyer Ganden Tethong Blattner said you could almost say he had acted in “self defense.”
Swiss police re-arrested Elmer in January after he gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange new discs he said at the time held data on hundreds of offshore account holders.
He was kept in investigative custody for six months but later said the discs did not contain bank data after all.
About a dozen left-wing protesters gathered outside the court in Zurich with red flags and banners in support of Elmer.
“A witness of a crime is sitting in the dock and the criminals are acting the part of plaintiff,” said David Roth, president of the youth wing of the Social Democrats, in a flyer.
($1 = 0.917 Swiss Francs)
Editing by Sophie Hares