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Julian Assange speaks to reporters in London Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 where it was announced he had obtained documents pertaining to the banking information of the world’s richest hedge fund managers, corporations and wealthy individuals. (Caroline Byrne/Caroline Byrne)
Julian Assange speaks to reporters in London Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 where it was announced he had obtained documents pertaining to the banking information of the world’s richest hedge fund managers, corporations and wealthy individuals. (Caroline Byrne/Caroline Byrne)

Ex-Swiss banker gives WikiLeaks new trove of financial secrets Add to ...

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange took possession today of thousands of new documents revealing the private banking details of the world's richest hedge fund managers, corporations and wealthy individuals who squirrel away money in off-shore banking havens to avoid paying tax.

Mr. Assange, on bail in London and fighting extradition to Sweden, said his team would study the "means, motives and opportunity" of people cited in the documents before handing over relevant information to the Serious Fraud Office, the U.K. financial investigator. He promised full disclosure on Wikileaks Web site once the information is verified by the Web site's staff. Mr. Assange previously handed over information on the Icelandic banking system to the SFO and published data on the Web site.

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"We will treat this information like all other information," Mr. Assange said. "So yes, there will be full revelations."

The documents are the second tranche of banking details given to Wikileaks by Rudoph Elmer, an accountant and former Swiss banker who earlier blew the whistle on the Julius Baer Bank when he was chief operating officer in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Elmer refused to provide specific information about individuals, corporations or private trust funds named in the files. He shrugged and put his hands up in the air when asked specifically whether any Canadians are involved.

Mr. Elmer estimated that there were about 2,000 files in all, but said there could be more because some of the trust funds involved have more than one beneficiary. The former Swiss banker passed the information to Mr. Assange at London's Frontline Club, but also refused to say whether he had specific evidence of criminal activity. He is scheduled to fly from London to Zurich where he must appear Wednesday on charges of breaching Swiss bank secrecy laws. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

"I do think as a banker I have the right to stand up if something is wrong," said Mr. 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," Mr. Elmer said.

For its part, Julius Baer Bank has denied any wrongdoing and any allegations that it may have aided clients who wanted to avoid taxes by using offshore accounts. The bank has also accused Mr. Elmer of trying to discredit the bank because he was fired.

Mr. Elmer told Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag that he had two compact discs with data on 2,000 clients and their offshore bank accounts, among them businessmen, 40 politicians and artists. Millionaires, multinational conglomerates and hedge fund managers from Europe and the United States are also mentioned in the data, which covers a 19-year period from 1990 to 2009 and comes from multiple banking sources, Mr. Elmer said.

Mr. Assange, the world's best-known whistleblower, is on bail and appeared at the Frontline Club owned by Vaughan Smith, who also owns the 10-bedroom farm in Norfolk, in the east of England, where Mr. Assange remains under "mansion arrest." He is fighting extradition to Sweden on allegations involving sexual assault.

Mr. Assange complained that Wikileaks has been subject to "economic censorship" by Visa and other financial companies that refuse to provide services to the whistle-blowing Web site, but vowed to continue to release documents, including thousands more U.S. embassy cables.

Mr. Assange refused to comment on when he would release promised details of a large U.S. bank, or whether the bank in question is Bank of America as widely reported.

Special to the Globe and Mail, with files from Associated Press

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