Swiss Council of the Press' "partial" admission of Elmer's complaint reflects the complete demize of the Swiss Fourth Estate

A Leak in Paradise (teaser w/ French subs) - Coming in 2015 © A leak in paradise
A Leak in Paradise (teaser w/ French subs) - Coming in 2015 © A leak in paradise

First published on, on July 14, 2012, 1:30 a.m.

Context: Rudolf Elmer is a prominent whistleblower who exposed systemic complacency and active complicity of his former employer bank Julius Baer (a Swiss bank) with tax evasion and fraud in the Cayman Islands (which is only one of many tax havens). Unfortunately for him, in Switzerland banks are more important than fighting multi-trillion-dollar tax evasion and crime-related money laundering business, so Elmer has since been fighting a David versus Goliath battle against the powerful financial lobby, but also Swiss institutions like justice and the police, which appeared to be nothing but tools of the giant private interests. For more on the case see:

The Swiss Council of the Press has published yesterday its decision regarding Rudolf Elmer's complaint after a "journalist", Alex Baur, from the Weltwoche newspaper, and chief editor Roger Koeppel, have defamed him by portraying him as a thief and a blackmailer while the case was (and still is) in the hands of justice, and while also failing to mention this fact. The article in question can be found (in the original Swiss German) here, and the excerpt mentioning Elmer is translated below:
Note: the article's main subject is the sacking of Philipp Hildebrand, former head of the Swiss National Bank, after a whislteblower, "Reno T.", exposed his alleged insider trading practices.
Disclaimer: this translation only intends to provide the general meaning of the article excerpt for non-German speakers; it doesn't pretend to be perfect



Rudolf Elmer, thief and blackmailer
Similar are the facts of Rudolf Elmer. The former employee of Bank Julius Baer had stolen in the Cayman Islands supposedly explosive customer data with which he tried to blackmail his (former) employer. Elmer's act fuels from the feeling of being mistreated by the bank after he didn't get a promotion. After a failed extortion attempt of the bank, Elmer sent the bank's data to various editors, and finally gave them to Wikileaks. So far, however, no journalist has utilized the data, suggesting that they are not of public importance.

However, in leftist circles that always cared little for banking secrecy, Elemer has the status of a whistleblower. This reflects a problem that occurs in the case of Hildebrand: It is always a question of political opinion, whether you condemn or celebrate the tipster. Which brings us back to the question raised in the beginning: Is Reto T. a hero or a traitor?



Strangely enough (or actually not), the council decided that Elmer's complaint was... partially admissible: as much as it sees "a violation of section 3 of the 'Declaration of the Rights and Obligations of Journalists'" after the journalists omitted to mention that the case was still processed in court, it states on the other hand that the journalists' allegations of "thief" and "blackmailer" are "almost admissible" because they were used in a "colloquial meaning" (sic!), and not a "legal" one.
This (along with most court decisions regarding Elmer, as you may have noticed if you've read the history of the case below) of course defies common sense and practice: in order to defame someone you don't need to do it with a legal meaning in mind or in form. And publicly portraying someone as a thief and a blackmailer, like the two pseudo-journalists did, is without question libel.
We read the Swiss Council of the Press' decision as a half admission that something is terribly wrong with the article, while in the same time covering for it. It reflects the poor state of the press in Switzerland, which explains the widespread political, corporate, and judicial abuses going on in that country (for the moment the victims, for instance of tax evasion, are outside the country; but a cancer is blind, and it ends-up turning against its own host). This is what happens when the accountability-seeking Fourth Estate is non-existent, and the press becomes nothing but an echo chamber for the political and corporate rhetoric. By trying to cast doubt on the nature of the words used by Baur and Koeppel, the council uses the same old technique as them when they suggest in their article that exposing financial crimes is good or bad depending on your political opinion. The F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) strategy seems to be a national sport in Switzerland.
It takes the intervention of another country like the US superpower to somehow get some sort of (small scale, and for US-interests only in this case) accountability of Swiss banks.
This is why whistleblowers like Elmer remain more important than ever.

Mehdi Taïleb

Président, Liberté-info

Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.