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22.07.2014

04:08 Uhr

Whistleblowers

Life Like A Thriller

VonAstrid Dörner

In the beginning there is the desire for justice: Whistleblowers often risk their career, family, and health to expose misconduct in the financial sector. A new study indicates: Whistleblowers are being ostracized.

Many whistleblowers develop a kind of tunnel vision. dpa

Many whistleblowers develop a kind of tunnel vision.

New YorkRudolf Elmer couldn't sleep anymore. Restlessly he wandered through the house during the night. The worries about his family's safety kept him wide awake. His six-year-old daughter told him about "black men", who watched her on the way to Kindergarden or when she was playing in the garden. One time one of the men started talking to her. Ever since then, the little girl was scared in the dark.

And it was Rudolf Elmer to blame for all of this. According to the British newspaper "The Guardian", Rudolf Elmer was the "most important whistleblower in the history of Swiss banking". However, Elmer explains, what sounded heroic at first, turned out to be "psychological torture" for him and his family.

Elmer's wife had been dragged into the whole mess, too. She was chased by an unknown car on the Swiss motorway. Elmer elaborates that "it was so bad that only the police could stop it." Also in the car were his daughter, a niece, and his mother-in-law.

The whistleblower was convinced: Private detectives, who were hired by the Swiss Private Bank Julius Baer, were responsible for these incidents. Julius Baer is the bank he reported to authorities for suspected involvement in money laundering and tax evasion.

Whistleblowers, this is something Elmer has learned, are always perceived as traitors or tattle-tales, too. He literally felt like he was being chased. A psychologist diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with insomnia and paranoia. Elmer even thought about committing suicide.

The fate of the Swiss national is an experience that many whistleblowers share. Often the battles last for many years. According to a new study from New York’s Columbia University, intimidation, demotion on the job, and exorbitant legal fees are common.

Katharina Weghmann investigated 14 whistleblower cases in the financial sector and found that next to losing their jobs, many whistleblowers risk their savings, family, and health. "In their fight for justice, many whistleblowers are being pushed to their limit", says Weghmann, who recently shared her insights with policy-makers in England. "The overwhelming majority describes the whistleblowing process as harassment that often causes psychological and physiological harm, such as depression, paranoia, and weight problems."

According to Louis Clark from the Whistleblower organization "Government Accountability Project" in Washington D.C., financial institutions are known to be particularly aggressive against employees, who report misconduct. "I have never seen a bank that is not lawyered to the teeth." Regardless, once in a while there are still employees who have the courage to report systemic wrongdoing in the financial sector. Common scandals include money laundering, Ponzi schemes, and mortgage fraud.

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