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Now the 20 most influential countries in the world will meet in London on April 2 to discuss coordinated sanctions against tax havens. The move signals an escalation of pressure that had previously been applied by individual states, notably Germany, France and the US.
Cocca is convinced that the crippling financial crisis and resultant economic recession is responsible for the renewed offensive against tax cheats as countries seek to shore up their battered accounts.
"I do not think the G20 would find it so easy to solve the problem worldwide," he said. "I think they will focus on the major players such as Switzerland."
It’s like this: So far, the only clients exposed were suspected of tax fraud, which involves lying to the government and is illegal in both countries. Mere tax evasion, where you just don’t get around to reporting your assets or income, isn’t a crime in Switzerland. And under a bilateral agreement, only conduct that is criminal in both countries can prompt Swiss banks to turn over information on their customers.
Now the U.S. is trying to pry open the crack to look for evaders. In federal court in Miami, the IRS demands that the bank name the American holders of more than 52,000 secret accounts.
Neither side can afford to lose the fight.
If UBS complies, Switzerland can prosecute the bankers for violating Swiss law and lift UBS’s banking license.
That isn’t all. The release of thousands of names would crumble public confidence in legendary Swiss bank secrecy, shrinking Switzerland’s international banking business, a linchpin in the economy.
Swiss authorities can’t let that happen, any more than U.S. authorities can walk away from the fight.
Had the U.S. done that or had the DoJ indicted UBS, it would have put the bank out of business in America with a loss of thousands of UBS U.S. jobs. It would also have caused a probable collapse of the bank itself, with major Swiss and global economic repercussions. (UBS' bad management already has lost over US$50 billion in the subprime mortgage crisis).
But even U.S. prosecutors knew the global financial system could hardly weather the destruction of UBS by American prosecutors. (And that would have been ingratitude. As I revealed last year, candidate Obama was very cozy with UBS officials and UBS was one of his biggest donors, giving $505,017 to his 2008 Presidential campaign).
Switzerland's justice minister will today meet her US counterpart in a crucial week in UBS's efforts to fight attempts to reveal to US authorities more names of rich American clients with undeclared accounts.
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf's meeting with Eric Holder, the new US attorney-general, comes amid belated attempts by Bern to counter the impact of the US legal onslaught against Switzerland's biggest bank and, more broadly, hallowed bank secrecy.
Swiss government officials declined to disclose the agenda of the meeting. But the tribulations of UBS, which last month agreed a $780m deal with the US Department of Justice to settle criminal charges about its private banking activities, were expected to be prominent.
At a meeting today, the government decided privacy protection for bank clients should be preserved, though international cooperation on tax offences should be improved. The government also set up a group of experts that will look at issues such as how to define tax fraud and will advise on talks with other countries, Merz said at a news conference in Bern.
Levin, who oversees the U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating UBS, proposed new laws this week to stop Americans from using offshore financial centers to evade taxes, supporting legislation previously sponsored by President Barack Obama. The Michigan Democrat wants to impose tougher requirements on taxpayers with offshore accounts and give the Treasury Department the authority to take action against foreign jurisdictions that impede tax enforcement.
“Bank secrecy is a cash cow in Switzerland,” Levin said at the March 4 hearing held by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. “Conduct that actively facilitates tax evasion amounts to a declaration of war by offshore secrecy jurisdictions against honest, hardworking taxpayers. We’re determined to fight back and end the abuses inflicted on us by those tax havens.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate Finance Committee on the same day that the government will mount an “ambitious” program to crack down on companies that use offshore locales to avoid paying taxes.
Merz said last week he’s willing to make an agreement with the U.S.
UBS, Switzerland’s largest wealth manager, has lost 22 percent of its market value since the U.S. obtained the client data last month, compared with a 17 percent drop in the 65- member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index. It has beaten the index in all but three years since the start of the decade.
“The government put its head down and ignored the situation and then panicked when they realized they were up against a wall,” Cocca said. “They’ll have to give in to reduce the pressure on Switzerland.”
Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland vowed on Sunday to protect their banking secrecy and speak with one voice to influence how the G20 group of nations crack down on tax havens.
The G20 holds a summit in April and tackling tax havens is on its agenda but the three small countries with their long-cherished bank secrecy rules are not members of the group.
The Swiss government said Friday it would cooperate on cases of international tax evasion, breaking with a long-standing tradition of protecting wealthy foreigners accused of hiding billions of dollars in the Alpine nation.
The government insisted it would hold onto its cherished banking secrecy rules, but said other countries could now expect Swiss cooperation in cases where they provide compelling evidence of tax evasion.
"We want assistance to be restricted to individual cases to prevent fishing expeditions," President Hans-Rudolf Merz told a news conference, referring to the practice of seeking information about many individuals in the hope of discovering a few tax evaders.
The Swiss moved primarily because they were faced with the deeply undesirable prospect of finding themselves on a blacklist of unco-operative tax havens, due to be announced at the G20 meeting in London in April.
March 17 ~The Swiss Foreign Ministry summoned on Tuesday the German ambassador to protest "unacceptable" remarks by Germany's finance minister over Swiss banking secrecy, the official Swissinfo news website reported.
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck had said there were reasons to doubt Swiss promises to fully apply banking transparency standards prescribed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
He singled out conditions set out for sharing customer data, which he said would "maintain banking secrecy in principle."
"In my opinion, these statements are unacceptable, as much for being contemptuous and aggressive, both in substance and in form," Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey was quoted by Swissinfo as saying on Monday.
U.S. authorities have withdrawn a request for administrative assistance from Switzerland concerning tax fraud by clients of UBS (UBS.N)(UBSN.VX), the Swiss government said on Thursday.
A spokesman for Switzerland's Federal Tax Administration said the request was related to a criminal case, which was settled after UBS agreed to identify certain U.S. clients and pay a $780 million fine.
"The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has withdrawn the request for administrative assistance submitted in July 2008 in the case involving UBS," the Federal Tax Administration said in a statement.
UBS disclosed the identity of about 300 U.S. clients to avert criminal charges that Swiss regulators said would have put its existence at risk and hurt the economy, a decision that has brought the country's banking secrecy into question.
UBS is still fighting a U.S. civil case that is seeking to force the bank to reveal the names of 52,000 clients suspected of dodging taxes by stowing cash in Swiss accounts and is seen as a threat to Swiss banking secrecy and UBS's reputation.
The IRS declined to comment.
Originally posted by Amaterasu
I think what we are seeing is an overarching effort to break the world down through the destruction of currencies.
There's no way we would allow another reserve currency other than the $$. If you want to see WW3, that would cause it immediately. There's no way we would give up the ability to finance our budget and trade deficits without dropping bombs on someone. I think China and Russia know this but they'll jawbone it to death to seem like it's actually an option.
The IRS is ratcheting up the pressure on Americans who kept secret Swiss bank accounts, giving them six months to come clean and cough up any evidence against their advisers or bankers.
Tax lawyers told The Associated Press Thursday that demands for information and evidence have increased sharply since the government sued UBS AG to try to get the names of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who may have dodged taxes through Swiss accounts.
The Philippines was among four nations blacklisted as uncooperative tax havens yesterday after Group of 20 leaders declared the age of banking secrecy was over and said they would no longer tolerate shady havens draining away badly needed tax revenue.
At the request of the G20 summit of rich and developing nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) named the Philippines, Uruguay, Costa Rica and the Malaysian territory of Labuan as the worst offenders, saying they had refused to adopt new rules on financial openness.
Leaders had agreed to name and shame the countries that refuse to exchange tax information, which could result in tough sanctions – including the withdrawal of financing by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.
“The time of banking secrecy has passed,” French President Nicholas Sarkozy said following the summit. “Everyone around the table wants an end to tax havens. Everyone knows we need sanctions.”
The announcement reflects mounting concern that banking secrecy in tax havens has helped to worsen the economic crisis by disguising the true value of some global assets. Anti-poverty activists say such places provide corrupt officials places to stash illicit funds, often depriving poor nations of needed resources.
The OECD has divided countries into three categories: those who comply with rules on sharing tax information, those who say they will but have yet to act and nations which have not yet agreed to change banking secrecy practices.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which both have strong banking secrecy traditions, said last month they would adopt international rules on tax cooperation and were ready to comply with G20 demands.