FILM TIP: OFFSHORE – Elmer And The Bank Secrecy

Career at the Offshore Bank

The documentary tells the story of Rudolf Elmer, who started his career in Zurich working as an auditor for the Swiss Private Banking Group Julius Bär, followed by being employed offshore as COO (Chief Operating Officer) on the Cayman Islands. The difficulties began when Elmer discovered dubious accounts and suspect customers. Relevant questions at Zurich headquarters resulted in a breach of trust. Subsequently, Elmer was put in a backwater. It was probably at this moment, when he began to analyse the methods and to critically question the entire system.

Elmer put up a fight by warning customers and by trying to leak documents to the public. However, the media did not report the contents of the documents, but rather talked of a “whistleblower”. Elmer regarding the public as a kind of life insurance, given the fact, that his family was surveilled and threatened. The authorities too were not interested in his offer; as a result Elmer uses Wiki-Leaks in his attempt to get information into the open.

In spite of this, Elmer was sued several times and finally arrested. Following his remand, Elmer reaches a settlement with the Banking Group Julius Bär in 2011. However, the proceedings continue on grounds of threat, coercion and breach of the banking secrecy. The documentary also highlights the dubious conduct of the Zurich judiciary during the trial.

Protection for whistleblowers

The case of Rudolf Elmer shows how important it is that people having such information go public. Most countries do not offer protection for whistleblowers. Elmer sees a possibility in a kind of independent point of contact one could turn to or in being admitted to a witness protection programme.

Elmer states that the only purpose of the Swiss banking secrecy was to promote and enable tax fraud, corruption and money laundering. One of the most effective means against this can only be achieved by more transparency in the tax system. Current measures such as the automatic exchange of information were not sufficient, because the economic beneficiaries could not be established without appropriate registers.

A film, which tells the very personal story of the first whistleblower in Switzerland and which is – thanks to the French subtitles – easy to understand.
He was aware of the fact that his actions were not quite within the framework of applicable law: however, he would do it again – anonymously – to protect his family.