Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Swiss banking and whistleblowing - Ruedi Elmer back in court

Ruedi Elmer, Swiss banking whistleblower, is in court today, reportedly on charges of breaking banking secrecy. (See here, here and here for earlier blogs on Elmer's story.)

Elmer has been held in prison for more than 6 months since January this year, on charges without evidence. Having handed CD's to Wikileaks' Julian Assange in a much-publicised event on 17 January, it has since been revealed that they were empty. Reuters on 11 July reported:

Jack Blum, a U.S. lawyer and former congressional investigator who has represented Elmer and other offshore-banking whistle-blowers, told Reuters that it was also his understanding that "there was nothing" on the discs.

Blum said it was "completely out of order" for Swiss authorities to detain Elmer without charge or trial for more than six months. "In civilized places, you don't hold people without evidence and without charges," Blum said.

Blum said he understood that the most recent Julius Baer data Elmer could have had access to dates from 2002, and that it came from the Cayman Islands, not Switzerland.

(Jack Blum is also a Senior Adviser to TJN).

As we have pointed out before, 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 how the incriminating bank data was used.

Elmer is being branded, by some parties most notably in Switzerland, of being a disgruntled former employee bent on revenge. This is the classic behaviour of a corrupted secrecy jurisdiction: attack the messenger, to divert attention away from the uncomfortable message.

The implications of speaking out on the truth of the nasty underbelly of private banking are so frightening that it is hard to believe anyone would embark on the path Elmer has followed out of mere disgruntlement. We believe his ultimate motivation was disgust and outrage at the impunity of an élite who conduct nasty illicit deals behind a veil of secrecy, with an illusion of sophistication. The chapter "The Life Offshore - the human factor" in Nick Shaxson's Treasure Islands helps explain some of the pressures that such whistleblowers face. Elmer tells his own story on his website, describing himself as banker, victim, whistleblower, critic of the banking industry, hostage, and civil rights campaigner.

By their actions in Ruedi Elmer's case, the Swiss authorities are showing that despite all the routine (and laughable) assertions of cooperation and transparency, the banking system is using its might and power to show to their clients of secrecy that business continues as usual. Ruedi Elmer is a pioneer in this respect. Others may follow.


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