Swiss banker who turned to WikiLeaks admits errors

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Zurich, Jan 19 (AP) A Swiss banker who claims to havehanded WikiLeaks details of rich tax cheats acknowledged todaythat he made mistakes in his effort to expose the world ofoffshore tax evasion.

Rudolf Elmer said his nine-year campaign against formeremployer Bank Julius Baer was marred by missteps, as heawaited sentencing before a Zurich court on charges ofcoercion and breaking Switzerland''s strict bank secrecy laws.

"I made big mistakes, I admit that," he told reportersduring a break before the verdict. "I wouldn''t say I''m a hero,but also not that I''m a traitor."

Zurich prosecutors allege that Elmer stole client dataafter being fired from his job at the Cayman Islands branch ofJulius Baer, and then tried to extort money from theSwiss-based bank and its senior executives.

Prosecutor Alexandra Bergmann also alleges that Elmer,55, illegally gave details on the bank''s offshore clients totax authorities, media and later WikiLeaks.

Elmer claims he was being persecuted by the bank.

"I was in an extreme situation," he said. "It''s logicalthat I developed a defense strategy."

Elmer said he was also trying to expose a widespreadsystem of tax evasion by rich businesspeople and politicians.

The case has generated intense interest abroad because ofthe link to WikiLeaks, and in Switzerland, where bank clientprivacy has a special place in the national psyche.

Several Swiss banks including UBS AG and Credit SuisseGroup have suffered embarrassing data leaks in recent years,some at the hands of disgruntled employees.

Appearing before a single judge at Zurich''sadministrative court today, Elmer admitted sending threateningmessages to some bank officials, but insisted he had done soafter the bank fired him from his job as chief operatingoffice on the Cayman Islands and then intimidated him.

He denied issuing a bomb threat against the bank, butadmitted threatening to send details on its exclusive offshoreclients to tax authorities in Switzerland, Britain and theUnited States. Elmer said the data would also be sent toNeo-Nazi groups "and other organizations which fight thecapitalism (sic)," according to a prosecution statement.

Prosecutors say authorities have launched at least onetax evasion case after receiving the data.

The prosecution case against Elmer, who claims to havesuffered physical and psychological illness as a result of histreatment by the bank, reads like a mix of farce and JasonBourne novel.

Elmer was fired in 2002 after refusing to take a liedetector test on the Cayman Islands, where he had worked forthe bank for eight years.

Prosecutors claim he spent the next few years movingbetween Switzerland, the Isle of Man, Germany, Austria andMauritius. At times he is alleged to have offered to sellstolen data back to Julius Baer, at times he threatened toexpose what he described as "unethical or even criminalbehaviour" by the bank''s senior management. (AP)

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