ZURICH (Reuters) – A Swiss court ruled on Wednesday that two people were only partially guilty of violating bank secrecy laws in 2011 by leaking information about currency trades by the then-wife of the national bank chairman.
The Zurich court ruled that Hermann Lei, a Swiss People’s Party (SVP) politician, and an ex-Bank Sarasin IT worker identified only as R.T., broke secrecy laws by informing a leading SVP figure about currency trades made by National Bank Chairman Philipp Hildebrand’s then-wife, several weeks before the SNB took steps to cap the rise of the safe-haven currency.
But the court cleared the pair of other counts of the same crime for later exposing the currency trades to the media, which the judge deemed legitimate whistle-blowing.
Hildebrand’s spouse bought 400,000 Swiss francs (now $413,000) worth of dollars and sold them at a higher rate after the cap was imposed. Hildebrand resigned from his post when the trades became public.
But both defendants were acquitted of bank secrecy breaches for a later leak of the same information to the media, which the court deemed “admissible whistleblowing” after authorities had failed to act on the information, said the head of the Zurich High Court of Appeal’s criminal division, Daniel Bussmann.
Lei was fined 13,600 Swiss francs ($14,038) while the former bank worker was fined 2,100 francs. Their sentences were suspended. A lower court last year had fined the former employee 1,350 francs and Lei 40,800 francs. The defendants appealed against those fines.
“It’s a partial victory but also a partial disappointment,” Lei told Swiss news agency SDA in reference to the verdict, adding he would later decide whether to appeal against the decision.
Asked whether he would do the same again, Lei replied: “Certainly not. Everyone has recognized that the one who uncovers wrongdoing is the one who then gets silenced. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Hildebrand, who quit one of the world’s top central banking jobs as Swiss parliamentarians met to discuss the scandal, said at the time he had no knowledge of his wife’s transactions but acknowledged mistakes were made.
Hildebrand is now vice chairman of asset manager BlackRock.
An auditor later determined that central bank regulations were not breached by the currency trade case.
Switzerland’s tradition of banking secrecy helped it become the world capital for foreign wealth but in recent years a global clampdown on tax dodging and money laundering, as well as new agreements on cross-border information exchange, has lessened its role.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; editing by Mark Heinrich