Switzerland bristles at blacklist threat

4th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Swiss bankers and politicians respond in anger to Sarkozy’s blacklist statement.

ZURICH - Switzerland got angry on Monday at an assessment by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that it should be put on a planned G20 blacklist of tax havens.

This situation "would go completely against our relationship with the European Union," Leonard Bender, a leading member of the centre-right Radical Party, which supports banking secrecy.

Adding Switzerland to a blacklist of tax havens would be an "excessive and unjustified decision," he added.

Asked after an EU summit in Brussels whether the Swiss could find themselves on the blacklist being prepared for a G20 meeting in April, Sarkozy replied "that depends on their response.

"But as things stand ... the answer is probably, yes," the French President said.
A Swiss Bankers Association spokesman said he found the "hypocrisy of the coordinated attack on Switzerland quite nauseating."

Noting that of more than 30 areas targeted for their favourable tax regimes, "the only name on the list Mr Sarkozy seems able to pronounce is Switzerland," he said.

A spokesman from Switzerland's Finance Ministry declined to comment on Sarkozy's remark.

On Saturday, Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said his country might make some concessions on banking secrecy to avoid being placed on an international blacklist when the leaders of the G20 industrialised and emerging economies meet in London on 2 April.

In recent months, Switzerland faced growing international pressure especially in the United States and in the European Union, where critics claimed secrecy encourages their citizens to evade taxes by hiding their money in Swiss banks.

The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit in the US in February to force Switzerland's biggest bank to reveal the identities of 52,000 US customers who allegedly evaded taxes, increasing pressure on the Swiss bank.

UBS earlier agreed to a USD 780 million (CHF 921 million) settlement on charges of aiding tax fraud in the United States.

Banking secrecy law prohibits Swiss banks from revealing information to domestic or foreign authorities or any third parties about their clients, except in cases involving recognised criminal investigations.

In Switzerland, only tax fraud is regarded as a crime, not tax evasion, a distinction that does not exist in most other major economies.

AFP / Expatica

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