by NPR STAFF AND WIRES
January 17, 2011
A former Swiss banker said Monday that he has handed over to WikiLeaks two discs containing what he claims is information on 2,000 offshore bank account holders.
Rudolf Elmer, an ex-employee of Swiss-based bank Julius Baer, said the documents reveal case after case of tax evasion and involve 40 politicians as well as entertainers and multinationals from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. He refused to name the account holders, but said the data span a period of at least 19 years and involve three banks.
Elmer, who is scheduled to go on trial this week for breaking bank secrecy laws, said he believes he has the right to take a stand against a system that permits secret and often illegal activity.
"I do think as a banker I have the right to stand up if something is wrong," said Elmer, who addressed reporters at London's Frontline Club alongside WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
"I am against the system. I know how the system works and I know the day-to-day business. From that point of view, I wanted to let society know what I know. It is damaging our society," Elmer said.
WikiLeaks said that none of the material will be published on its website before Assange's team has had a chance to verify the data.
The Julius Baer bank said it was aware of Elmer's decision to pass a new set of files to WikiLeaks.
"He didn't attack us at this press conference, he explicitly targeted not us but 'the system,"' said the bank's spokesman, Jan Vonder Muehll.
Assange praised the ex-banker's attempts to expose alleged shady practices in the financial industry. The WikiLeaks founder was making a rare public appearance since he was released on bail on Dec. 16 following his arrest on a Swedish extradition warrant.
Elmer has previously offered files to WikiLeaks on financial activities in the Cayman Islands and claims his previous disclosures showed evidence of major tax avoidance in the Caribbean.
Assange said that as with other releases by WikiLeaks — which caused an uproar in November when it began posting its cache of about 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables to the Internet — some media organizations could be given the bank information ahead of time. He named theFinancial Times and Bloomberg as possible candidates.
The files, or parts of the files, also may be provided to British government fraud investigators to examine for any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the website's founder said.
"We will treat this information like all other information we get," Assange said. "There will be a full revelation."
Britain's tax authority declined to comment when asked about Assange's plan to supply details of alleged wrongdoing.
Under the terms of his release on bail, Assange must live at the mansion home of Vaughan Smith, the owner of the Frontline Club. He has compared the regime to "high-tech house arrest," but has recently promised that the flow of leaked documents published by his organization would increase.
Larry Miller in London and Lisa Schlein in Geneva contributed to this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.