ZURICH, Jan 12 (Reuters) - A former Julius Baer banker acknowledged that he passed confidential client data to WikiLeaks but argued his actions were not illegal, as his trial resumed on charges of breaching Swiss banking secrecy law.
The trial of Rudolf Elmer, a self-described “Gandhi of Swiss tax law”, comes as banking secrecy in Switzerland is crumbling under international pressure from countries trying to recoup lost tax revenue.
Whistleblowers have usually found little sympathy in Switzerland, the world’s largest offshore financial centre. Breaching Swiss banking secrecy is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 250,000 Swiss francs ($245,459).
Elmer, a former senior executive at Zurich-based Baer’s Cayman Islands’ office, is accused of passing information to WikiLeaks on two occasions, one in late 2007 or early 2008 and another in 2011. Elmer acknowledged passing on information in 2007-2008.
However, Elmer’s lawyer, Ganden Tethong, argued that Elmer had not broken any Swiss laws on that occasion, as he had not obtained the information as an employee of a Swiss bank. Tethong also argued that the statute of limitations regarding that information had expired.
Prosecutors are also looking into two compact discs Elmer gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a news conference in London in 2011. Elmer has since said the disks were empty. His lawyer argued that Wikileaks would have published any new information by now.
Elmer is also accused of attempting to pass confidential client files to then-German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in 2009 and of forging a letter from Julius Baer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007.
The trial of the 59-year-old Elmer was halted almost five weeks ago, when the former banker collapsed outside the courtroom in Zurich. [ID: nL6N0TU1RT]
On Monday, Elmer appeared in better spirits, dressed in a black suit and tie, a sharp contrast to the trousers and hoodie he wore at the start of the trial in December.
The prosecution is seeking a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Elmer. A verdict is due on Monday, Jan. 19. ($1 = 1.0185 Swiss francs) (Reporting By Joshua Franklin; Editing by Katharina Bart and Larry King)