17 Jan 2011

Wikileaks given data on Swiss bank accounts

A former Swiss banker has passed on data containing account details of 2,000 prominent people to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The data - which is not yet available on the Wikileaks website - was held on two discs handed over by Rudolf Elmer at a press conference in London.

Mr Assange promised full disclosure once the information had been vetted.

Mr Elmer is scheduled to go on trial in Switzerland on Wednesday for breaking bank secrecy laws.

The banker, who has given data to Wikileaks before, was fired from Swiss bank Julius Baer in 2002.

According to a report in Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag, the data covers multinationals, financial firms and wealthy individuals from many countries, including the UK, US and Germany, and covers the period 1990-2009.

Serious Fraud Office

"Once we have looked at the data... there will be full revelation," said Mr Assange, who is currently under house arrest in the UK due to an extradition request from Sweden.

He said the data would be vetted but that it was difficult to say how long this would take. The vetting would depend on the volume of information and how it was delegated, Mr Assange said, although he suggested it could be as little as two weeks.

Other groups - such as the Tax Justice Network or financial media outlets - might be asked to help in the vetting process, he added.

Mr Assange also said some information was likely to be handed over to the authorities - mentioning specifically the UK's Serious Fraud Office - as was the case with a previous leak concerning Icelandic banks.

Although it was not confirmed what activities might be covered by the data, the Wikileaks head noted that previous data from Julius Baer provided by Mr Elmer had shed light on tax evasion, the hiding of proceeds of criminal acts and "the protection of assets of those about to fall out of political favour".

'Fire-breathing dragon'

"I'm against the system. I know how the system works," said Mr Elmer at the press conference. He said a sophisticated network existed to funnel illicit money into secret offshore accounts.

"I've been there. I've done the job. I know what is the day-to-day business," he said, explaining why he thought it important to identify himself as the source.

The banker, who worked as Julius Baer's chief operating officer in the Cayman Islands, said he and his family faced pressure akin to "a fire-breathing dragon with several heads" after he decided to blow the whistle.

He said he was put in prison in Switzerland for 30 days for violating Swiss banking rules, and that he was offered money and the withdrawal of charges against him in order to buy his silence.
He said the data included the offshore accounts of about 40 politicians, and covered accounts at three banks, including his former employer.

The banker said that he and his wife had written a letter to German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck, offering to provide the data for free, but received no response.

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