Swiss seek 'clear' position on bank secrecy

27th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Leuthard calls on a new government team to clarify Switzerland's stance on tax offences.

GENEVA - Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard on Thursday called on a government team set up to defend the Swiss financial centre to come up with a "clear" position on the issue of banking secrecy.

The task force must clarify how Switzerland will deal with tax offences, she told Swiss Radio DRS, as pressure built on Switzerland amid a tax evasion investigation by the United States against the country's biggest bank UBS.

"We need... a strategy on how Switzerland can protect banking secrecy" and "for people who have their money here but who need to adhere to laws in other countries, how it can cooperate better with these states," Leuthard said.

The government delegation must therefore clarify if tax evasion should continue to be protected under banking secrecy laws, she added.

In Switzerland, tax evasion is not a crime but tax fraud involving the forgery of documents is.

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

Critics claim the protection offered by banking secrecy caused the country to allow wealthy foreign clients to evade taxes.

On Wednesday, Switzerland formed a team to "defend the interest of our country" in the UBS dispute with the United States over allegations of tax evasion, as well as with the European Union and other countries.

Earlier in February, UBS provided data on 250 to 300 clients to the US government and paid a fine of USD 780 million (CHF 916 million) to settle a case of assisting tax fraud by US clients.

A day later, the US government filed a separate lawsuit to try to force UBS to reveal the identities of 52,000 US customers accused of evading taxes, bringing attention to banking secrecy.

AFP / Expatica

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