So long … is it game over for Swiss banks ?

… farewell, auf wiedersehen …

Published on The Guardian, by Nick Mathiason, Sunday 1 March 2009.

Once it was a place where the world’s wealthy safely hid their trillions, but now international pressure, including a US lawsuit against troubled industry giant UBS, may force Switzerland’s bankers to give up their long-cherished secrecy …

… The secret history:

The secrecy of Swiss banks dates back to the middle ages and was used to hide wealth by many of Europe’s dynasties and the Vatican, even though Switzerland had embraced Protestantism.

Secrecy became official Swiss government policy during the First World war and was made law in 1934.

Swiss financiers have faced criticism for destabilising democracy during the last 100 years. In 1923, Adolf Hitler visited Zürich to raise money for his party, and was said to have met bankers at the famous Hotel St Gotthard.

Swiss banks were used by the Nazis to stash looted gold. A UBS security guard blew the whistle on the bank’s attempts to destroy records dating back to that time; he was sacked for his trouble. In 1998, an independent panel of experts found Swiss banks were guilty of accepting Nazi deposits, even though they knew those deposits involved theft.

Up to 19 Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse, were used by corrupt former Nigerian ruler Sani Abacha, who looted £3bn from his country. But the Swiss Bankers’ Association points out that its report revealed the banks’ identities, which is more than British regulators managed in the Abacha case. (full long text).

… and: …

Jean Ziegler says: … “The Swiss banks and, specifically, UBS are practising tax evasion on a very high level,” he told RFI. “There are over 52,000 taxpayers who, with the help of UBS evaded their taxes for a global sum of over 30 billion dollars. It is only normal that the new American administration wants to recuperate this money and stop the massive tax evasion through the Swiss banks” … (on US probes Swiss bank’s secrecy, 2009-02-20).

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