Swiss bank secrecy – and Guantanamo
June 29th, 2009
June 29th, 2009
Martin Sullivan at Tax Analysts has pointed out critical factors impacting the political will to pursue, or to drop, the US Department of Justice case against UBS. In his article “News Analysis: Switzerland, Guantanamo, and Tax Evasion“, Marty states his hope that “Justice will stick to its guns”, yet adds:
“It makes so much political sense to appease the Swiss. The Swiss government announced in January that it would be willing to take some Guantanamo prisoners off U.S. hands — providing much-needed relief for one of the superpower’s biggest foreign policy headaches. The United States calls on Switzerland to represent it in countries such as Iran where the U.S. has no Guantanamo diplomatice presence. In this economic crisis and in coming years, good relations with the Swiss will be essential for multilateral actions to promote financial stability.”
At the core of the DOJ/UBS dispute lies Switzerland’s notorious Banking Secrecy. The DOJ is demanding release of information on an estimated 52,000 UBS customers who are US citizens. UBS says that this is a matter between U.S. and Swiss governments, because the release of account information by Swiss bankers without the explicit consent of their clients would mean that those bankers are breaking Swiss banking secrecy laws; the bankers would be committing a criminal act in their own country.
Good news so far is that the publicity on the potential alone for UBS releasing account information has encouraged scores of wealthy US individuals to come forward voluntarily to avoid possible criminal prosecution. These wealthy individuals include clients of additional financial institutions, beyond UBS. These events are also contributing to a groundswell of deterrence to potential tax evaders. Good so far, but as Marty states:
“… President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder should understand that by vigorously pursuing the revelation of wealthy U.S. tax evaders using Swiss accounts, they have a unique opportunity to deal a serious blow to offshore tax evasion. By dropping the case, they would be giving it all away. And no matter how much they would argue to the contrary, they would be seriously backtracking on their oft-stated intention to crack down on tax haven abuse”.