Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Elmer's exposures: NYT story

Last year we hosted Swiss whistleblower Ruedi Elmer as a guest blogger, writing a piece somewhat more tolerant of secrecy jurisdictions than we normally are. Now the New York Times is carrying a long article about him, which is worth reading in its entirety but notes:

"He said that he would fly on Tuesday to Düsseldorf, Germany, where the tax authorities are putting him up in a five-star hotel as he prepares to divulge client secrets.
"

not only that, but

"Lawyers and Congressional investigators who have begun to review Mr. Elmer’s claims say that his internal bank and client documents provide fresh ammunition for American authorities as they take their crackdown on offshore tax evasion beyond UBS to clients of other banks.

Mr. Elmer has given documents to the I.R.S., a Senate subcommittee investigating tax evasion and investigators for Robert M. Morgenthau, then the Manhattan district attorney, his lawyer Jack Blum said. They cover more than 100 trusts, dozens of companies and hedge funds and more than 1,300 individuals, from 1997 through 2002, Mr. Blum said."

(Blum is a senior adviser to TJN.)

Of course, the Swiss authorities aren't investigating the gigantic crimes that Elmer reportedly seems to have exposed - instead they are focusing their investigative skills on the minor question of whether or not bank data was stolen. It's a mismatch of priorities similar to the one so excruciatingly exposed by the investigator on an edition of the political-comedy programme The Daily Show recently, when a top Swiss diplomat, after foolishly agreeing to put a piece of litmus paper in his mouth to test his "neutrality", was asked whether it was really such a good idea to take a "neutral" position in the Second World War between the Nazi government and the victims of their aggression.

Elmer joins whistle-blowers including Bradley Birkenfeld, the former UBS private banker who disclosed the bank’s secrets; Heinrich Kieber, a former data clerk at the LGT Group, the Liechtenstein royal bank, and Christoph Meili, the UBS night guard who blew the whistle after discovering people in the bank shredding documents related, apparently to books from the German Reichsbank from the Second World War, among other things.

“It is a global problem, and I am only the messenger who provides the bad news, or even better, the truth,” Mr. Elmer, 54, wrote in a recent e-mail message. “Offshore tax evasion is the biggest theft among societies and neighbor states in this world.”


Christopher S. Rizek, a tax lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington who has represented scores of wealthy American clients of Swiss banks, said in the New York Times article that "his actions are “symptomatic of a generalized breakdown of bank secrecy.”

We wouldn't go nearly that far, but there can be no doubt that in these days of memory sticks and computer storage, it is easier for whistleblowers to get hold of, and expose, dirty secrets.

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