* Assange says Swiss should probe alleged tax fraud
* Arrest puts Swiss banking in spotlight
By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Jan 23 The founder of whistleblower site
WikiLeaks attacked Switzerland on Sunday for arresting a Swiss
banker on suspicion of breaching banking secrecy instead of
investigating the tax evasion he said he had uncovered.
In an interview published in the Swiss weekly Der Sonntag,
Julian Assange, whose website has angered Washington by
releasing confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, said
Switzerland's actions were drawing renewed international
attention to its controversial banking practices.
On Friday the Swiss prosecutor's office said former banker
Rudolf Elmer would be detained over the weekend after police
questioned him about breaking Swiss banking secrecy laws. A
judge will decide on Monday whether to remand him for longer.
Police took Elmer into custody on Jan. 19 after he handed
computer discs to Assange for WikiLeaks at a news conference in
London earlier in the week. Elmer indicated the CDs contained
details of as many as 2,000 offshore bank accounts.
"Mr. Elmer is in prison because he has revealed a criminal
offshore system of tax evasion in which Swiss banks play a
leading role," Assange was quoted as saying in an interview.
"Instead of investigating these offshore structures and
going after the tax evaders, the authorities are going after Mr.
Elmer," he said.
The newspaper, quoting Assange in German, said it had
received his comments via a WikiLeaks intermediary.
In a separate case, Elmer was also convicted on Jan. 19 of
breaching banking secrecy by passing on private client data to
the tax authorities and of threatening employees at his former
firm Julius Baer BAER.VX. [ID:nLDE70J1RI]
Elmer has appealed against this verdict.
Swiss media have speculated that the data Elmer handed to
WikiLeaks on Wednesday concerned Julius Baer operations in the
Cayman Islands, where Elmer had headed its operations, and are
therefore not covered by laws protecting Swiss banking secrecy.
Switzerland's bank secrecy helped it build a $2 trillion
wealth management industry but the laws have come under intense
global attack in recent years, with neighbouring Germany buying
secret data from informants to track down tax evaders.
"Elmer's arrest makes it more urgent to examine his banking
data and publish them as soon as possible," Assange said.
"Switzerland is putting itself into the spotlight with its
actions," he said.
Assange said Switzerland was not the only country involved
in the offshore banking structures that were depriving tax
authorities worldwide of some $22 billion.
Assange himself is under a form of modified house arrest in
England, awaiting an extradition hearing to Sweden for
questioning over alleged sex offences that he denies.
WikiLeaks has previously said it plans to release documents
relating to a major U.S. bank, believed to be Bank of America
(Editing by Tim Pearce)