Credit Suisse opposes climate expert testimony as Swiss protests spread

GENEVA (Reuters) - Credit Suisse and prosecutors on Tuesday opposed a request to allow climate change experts to testify in the trial of a protester charged with vandalism as activists targeted another of the Swiss bank’s branches.

The court case in Geneva is being seen as a test of Swiss institutions’ tolerance of growing civil disobedience in the name of halting climate change that has targeted banks and, this week, commodity trading houses.

Defence lawyers had requested at least three expert witnesses to show that their client’s actions were necessitated by the “imminent danger” posed by climate change, hoping to use a successful argument as in a similar case in Lausanne last month.

But Judge Francoise Saillen Agad disallowed the testimony, citing opposition from the prosecutor’s office. Credit Suisse lawyers also voiced opposition to the request.

Credit Suisse filed a criminal complaint against the 23-year-old defendant for smearing what he says was washable red paint on the window of its Geneva branch during a protest in October 2018, according to court documents and testimony.

“The slower our actions (on climate change), the more legitimate the actions are that target the financial sector,” Laila Batou, a lawyer for the defence, told the court.

Outside the courtroom, supporters held up copies of the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stained with red hand prints in solidarity with the accused.

Activists from Collective Climate Justice also told Reuters they posted hundreds of red hand prints on the outside of a Credit Suisse branch in Basel on Tuesday.

In the Geneva case, lawyers for Credit Suisse are seeking 2,252 Swiss francs ($2,297) in damages. The defendant has already been ordered by prosecutors to pay the cost of proceedings and a 600 franc fine.

The verdict is due on Thursday.

Credit Suisse declined to comment on an active case.

“Credit Suisse intends to play an active role in the fight against climate change,” it said. In December, it said it would stop financing the development of new coal-fired plants.

Spurred by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to urge the Swiss establishment to make faster progress on fighting climate change in a country warming twice as fast as the global average.

Recent protests have focused on the impact of its huge financial sector, which activists say is not counted by the government in its reports of greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate activists last month hailed the Lausanne court’s decision to acquit 12 defendants, but critics say it creates a dangerous precedent that will encourage copycat stunts. An appeal was lodged.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mike Harrison and David Holmes