Expatica news

Switzerland sees no need to change banking laws in light of Liechtenstein affair

24 February 2008

BERN – The Swiss government on Sunday brushed aside calls to ease its banking secrecy rules after Germany complained that Switzerland is assisting foreigners to evade taxes in their homeland.

Switzerland’s laws do not encourage foreign tax evaders, Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz told Swiss radio station DRS.

In an interview published in the weekly newspaper Sonntag, Merz said that while Switzerland had done a lot in recent years to improve cooperation with other countries on tax issues, privacy was a human right that should not be curtailed with ever stricter laws.

However, he added that Swiss banks had reached a special arrangement with the United States to give authorities there greater access to banking information that might be useful in anti-terror investigations.

German politicians of all parties are demanding concerted action against all offshore tax havens after recent allegations that rich Germans are hiding millions of euros in the tiny Alpine principality of Liechtenstein.

The move has caused consternation in Switzerland, where foreigners enjoy a high level of protection thanks to the country’s liberal banking rules. The amount of money deposited in Swiss banks by foreigners is estimated to run to several trillion euros – providing jobs for tens of thousands of bankers, lawyers and tax advisers.

Philippe Levy, a retired ambassador and former president of the anti-graft group Transparency Switzerland, has said pressure from foreign governments to pursue citizens who stash money away in tax havens would inevitably lead to a change in Swiss banking rules.

“Unless other countries accept it, Switzerland’s banking secrecy can’t be maintained in its current form,” he told Zurich-based daily Tages-Anzeiger in an interview published Saturday.

[Copyright ap 2008]