Thu Nov 17, 2011 9:48am EST
* Rudolf Elmer appeals against guilty verdict
* Drops charges against bank Julius Baer
* Fights for his reputation as whistleblower
ZURICH, Nov 17 (Reuters) – A former Swiss banker turned WikiLeaks whistleblower appealed on Thursday against his conviction for breaching Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy laws after he revealed private client data.
Rudolf Elmer, who worked at the Cayman Islands branch of Swiss private bank Julius Baer until he was fired in 2002, helped bring WikiLeaks to prominence when he used it to publish bank documents to expose tax evasion.
A court convicted him in January of breaching bank secrecy by passing on private client data to the tax authorities and of threatening employees at his former company. He was sentenced to a fine of 7,200 Swiss francs ($7,850) suspended for two years.
It was not clear whether the court would rule on the appeal on Thursday or at a later date.
Elmer, who has run the website www.swisswhistleblower.com since May 2008 and described himself as a “Gandhi of Swiss tax law”, argued Swiss bank secrecy should not apply, since the documents he leaked referred to accounts in the Cayman Islands.
The 56-year-old said Baer waged a campaign of “psycho-terror” against him and his family and had obsessively followed him. But on Thursday he dropped charges he had brought against the bank, without giving reasons.
Elmer has admitted sending confidential bank data to tax authorities. But he denied blackmail and a bomb threat against Julius Baer and denied allegations he took payments in return for handing back secret data.
Elmer said he had kept hold of documents on USB sticks and brought them back to Switzerland out of fear and denied being motivated by revenge after he was fired.
“I was afraid something could happen to me,” he told the court.
Swiss police rearrested Elmer in January after he gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange new discs he said at the time held data on hundreds of offshore account holders.
He was kept in investigative custody for six months but later said the discs did not contain bank data after all.
About a dozen left-wing protesters gathered outside the court in Zurich with red flags and banners in support of Elmer.
“A witness of a crime is sitting in the dock and the criminals are acting the part of plaintiff,” said David Roth, president of the youth wing of the Social Democrats in a flyer.
Swiss bank secrecy has come under global attack in recent years, as cash-strapped governments seek to boost revenue by cracking down on tax cheats.
Switzerland last year gave details of about 4,450 UBS accounts to U.S. authorities as part of a deal to settle a tax probe into its biggest bank despite strict secrecy laws. ($1 = 0.917 Swiss Francs)
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Jon Hemming)