No 'indiscriminate' probe into accounts

9th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Swiss Bankers Association said Thursday they will provide tax information only after receiving "justified requests".

Singapore -- Swiss banks will oppose "indiscriminate" probes of bank accounts when searching for tax cheats even after agreeing to new rules on more openness, an industry leader said here Thursday.

Urs Roth, chief executive of the Swiss Bankers Association, sought to assure wealthy clients that their privacy remains protected by Swiss law, provided they are not involved in fraud.

Roth said Switzerland will provide tax information on bank clients only after receiving "justified requests" about individual cases.

The subjects of the queries and the relevant banks "must be clearly identifiable" and have the right of appeal in Switzerland, he said in a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore.

"Both Swiss law and the OECD's model tax convention do not permit 'fishing expeditions' -- in other words the indiscriminate and unwarranted trawling through bank accounts," he said.

"We stand firmly behind this principle. We cannot accept that state authorities should have an automatic right of forced entry into a bank account without legal justification."

Roth stressed, "This has nothing to do with bank secrecy" but with the right of citizens to privacy.

"Citizens in a democracy would never allow their police forces to have an automatic right of forced entry into their homes just on the off chance of finding some stolen goods," he said.

"So why should state authorities have an automatic right of forced entry into bank accounts just on the off chance of discovering some tax evaders?"

Switzerland received attention recently after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development placed it on a list of financial centres that had committed to globally agreed tax standards but had not implemented them.

But Roth said Switzerland already completed the requirements to be removed from the list after signing its 12th tax information sharing agreement, with Qatar in September.

Swiss banking giant UBS was also forced to reveal the names of about 4,500 American clients suspected of depositing their money in the bank to evade taxes following pressure from Washington.

Roth said he was asked repeatedly how he thought Swiss banking would survive after the UBS case.

"The answer is that bank-client confidentiality has not disappeared. It has just been qualified further," he said.

Switzerland also has other attractions for wealthy individuals, including political, monetary and legal stability and access to the best financial products in the world, he added.

AFP / Expatica

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