WikiLeaks Acquires Details of Thousands of Swiss Bank Accounts

Offshore accounts include those of financial institutions, American celebrities.

January 17, 2011, 8:37 AM

Jan. 17, 2011 — -- Former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer handed over two computer discs detailing thousands of offshore bank accounts to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today, claiming that they contain evidence of massive potential tax evasion and other potentially illegal activity by banks.

Standing next to Assange, Elmer said that he had tried to hand the data over to tax authorities and members of the media.

"WikiLeaks is my only hope to get society to know what's going on," Elmer said.

The discs are full of details about the Swiss bank accounts belonging to more than 2,000 American, European and Asian individuals and multinational companies, Elmer has said. Among them, are some 40 politicians, as well as business leaders, celebrities, organized crime leaders and three major financial institutions. One of those banks is Bank Julius Baer, the former employer of Elmer.

Elmer previously leaked documents to WikiLeaks in 2008. Those files contained information about his former employer's offshore operations in the Cayman Islands and prompted a U.S. judge to temporarily shut down WikiLeaks.

"I want to let society know how this system works," Elmer said. "It's damaging society."

Also present at the event at London's Frontline Club was John Christensen from the Tax Justice Network who estimated that $20 trillion is held offshore with the intention to evade taxes.

"Secrecy encourages criminal activity. And bankers…promote secrecy," Christensen said.

Elmer said he would not immediately release the names of any individuals or institutions, in part to ensure the names on the accounts are real, and not aliases for individuals or companies involved.

"The investigation is for government authorities to sort out," Elmer said.

Elmer repeatedly emphasized that he, not Assange, takes full responsibility for the information.

"This is not my news conference. This is Mr. Elmer's news conference," Assange said.

WikiLeaks to Release Swiss Bank Account Details

It was a rare public appearance for Assange since he was released on bail Dec. 16 following his arrest on a Swedish extradition warrant.

Assange added that it will take several weeks for WikiLeaks to vet the documents.

"We haven't seen the material," Assange said.

"We will treat this information like all other information we get," Assange said. "There will be a full revelation."

Along with vetting the data, the whistle blowing organization is still in the midst of releasing its trove of 250,000 diplomatic cables. So far, the organization has posted just 2,444 cables.

WikiLeaks' decision to delay releasing the information is an interesting one for an organization built on full transparency. The federal government is currently conducting an aggressive investigation into the secret spilling group.

In December 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables had put the United States at risk and said he authorized a criminal investigation into Assange.

"The lives of people who work for the American people has been put at risk; the American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that are, I believe, arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way. We are doing everything that we can," Holder said. "We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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