Zurich, Jan 19 (AP) A Swiss banker who claims to havehanded WikiLeaks details of rich tax evaders went on trialtoday to answer charges of coercion and breaking Switzerland''sstrict banking secrecy laws.
Zurich prosecutors allege that Rudolf Elmer stole clientdata after being fired from his job at the Cayman Islandsbranch of Julius 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.
On Monday, Elmer staged a dramatic ceremony in London,where he handed over two more data CDs to WikiLeaks founderJulian Assange. Elmer claimed the disks contained names of2,000 wealthy account holders, but refused to give details ofthe companies or individuals involved.
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.
Prosecutors are calling for an eight-month sentence andfine for what Julius Baer says was a vendetta by a disgruntledemployee against it.
Elmer claims he was trying to expose a widespread systemof tax evasion by rich businesspeople and politicians.
Elmer''s actions caused a US judge to shut down WikiLeaksfor two weeks in early 2008, marking the only time that thesecrecy-spilling website has been forced offline for asignificant amount of time.
Since then, WikiLeaks has shot into public consciousnessfor publishing thousands of secret US military and diplomaticfiles.
US authorities are currently trying to build a legal caseagainst WikiLeaks and some of its collaborators, claiming therelease of the files puts lives at risk.
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 at its Cayman Islandsbranch and then intimidated him.
"I was in an extreme situation," he said. "It''s logicalthat I developed a defense strategy."
He denied issuing a bomb threat against the bank, butadmitted threatening to send details of the bank''s exclusiveoffshore clients to tax authorities in Switzerland, Britainand the United States. (AP)