Swiss Bank Accounts
July 20th, 2009
July 20th, 2009
A compromise with the United States on disclosure would be in the public interest.
THE UNITED States and Switzerland are in negotiations to settle their dispute over the Zurich-based bank UBS’s alleged role in tax evasion by U.S. citizens and residents. As readers will recall, UBS has already admitted running a vast covert scheme to help wealthy people park their cash in secret accounts, unreported to the Internal Revenue Service. The bank has agreed to pay $780 million in fines and turn over the names of 300 U.S. clients — two of whom have been arrested for hiding assets. But U.S. authorities have since filed a civil lawsuit seeking data on 52,000 Americans who, the U.S. government says, are hiding about $14.8 billion in Swiss accounts. UBS has refused, saying that to do so would violate Swiss bank secrecy law. The Swiss government upped the ante recently by declaring that it would confiscate the names rather than permit UBS to obey an American court order to release them.
This is an emotional issue on both sides. The U.S. government and its people are outraged that UBS would seek to profit this way; the Swiss government and its people see the U.S. demand as a threat to the legendary banking industry that supports a tenth of their economy. Yet both sides have a strong interest in resolving it peacefully: The Swiss and their banks need continued access to the U.S. market, and the United States needs Swiss help in diplomatic representation in such states as Iran and Cuba.
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