Thursday, February 19, 2009

Switzerland lifts bank secrecy

Well, only a tiny bit. Our headline, however, mimics one from Switzerland's Le Temps newspaper: La Suisse lève le secret bancaire. What the bank has done is to pay an unprecedented fine and cut loose 250 clients, to protect another 19,000, under ferocious and well-deserved American pressure.

We don't approve of UBS being able to buy most of its clients out of trouble. But this is a significant step. And note that this story isn't over:

"In June, a U.S. District Court gave the IRS permission to serve UBS with a so-called John Doe summons. The summons demands information that would help track down U.S. taxpayers with UBS Swiss bank accounts that they've been trying to hide from the IRS. Usually, such summonses have to specifically name individuals, so the broader John Doe version has the potential to uncover many more possible tax evaders.
. . .
"These taxpayers should note that today's agreement states that the U.S. Government will continue to seek enforcement of the summons," IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement. "If the bank fails to comply with a final order to produce the information, the U.S. government may deem UBS to be in violation of the agreement."

Recently we have noticed signs that the edifice of Swiss bank secrecy is under threat as never before.

Which is more than we can say, it seems on today's evidence, for Britain's role as the tax havens' tax haven and arguably the centre of global secrecy.

Why, you can hide away in the UK for just £224.95.


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