Swiss warn on US move over UBS clients

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by Cdntrader, Feb 22, 2009.

  1. Swiss warn on US move over UBS clients

    By Haig Simonian in Zurich

    Published: February 22 2009 20:29 | Last updated: February 22 2009 20:29

    Switzerland’s finance minister has accused US authorities of “shock” tactics to compel holders of undeclared UBS accounts to come forward, but warned that court action to discover the names of thousands of clients would not succeed.

    Hans-Rudolf Merz, finance minister and Switzerland’s head of state this year under its rotating presidency, defended the Swiss government’s role in prompting the world’s biggest wealth manager to breach hallowed bank secrecy and last week reveal some 250-300 client names to the US.

    But Mr Merz, speaking in a weekend radio broadcast, said the disclosure last week of a limited number of account holders suspected of tax fraud did not mean UBS, or the Swiss government, would bow to a separate US drive to identify all the bank’s American clients with offshore accounts in Switzerland.

    The comments came amid fierce debate in Switzerland, home to an estimated one-third of the world’s offshore assets, about the future of bank secrecy.

    Politicians from across party lines accused the government of weakness and ineptitude in submitting to US pressure and putting bank secrecy at risk. Financial services account for about 13 per cent of Switzerland’s gross domestic product, and bank secrecy is seen as a cornerstone of the country’s success as a financial centre.

    The accusations followed last week’s unprecedented decision by Finma, the Swiss bank and insurance regulator, to order UBS to transfer the 250-300 client names to the US Department of Justice.

    The move came after fears the US authorities would indict Switzerland’s biggest bank, or impose swingeing fines, either of which could have endangered its future.

    Eugen Haltiner, Finma chairman, said the authority had had to act to prevent a crisis of confidence at UBS that could have threatened the future of Switzerland’s biggest bank and the world’s biggest wealth manager.

    But Finma’s disclosure order, taken at the indirect behest of the government, has also triggered a judicial crisis, with lawyers of incensed UBS clients now pressing for it to be declared illegal.

    Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court, the highest body involved, will this week consider motions filed by UBS clients arguing that Finma’s order breached bank secrecy laws. Late on Friday the court issued a temporary injunction barring the release of further client details.

    Well-placed bankers said the 250-300 names had already been transferred to the US authorities as part of the $780m settlement negotiated by UBS in return for the suspension of criminal charges of assisting in tax evasion filed against it by the DoJ.

    Mr Merz and his critics were united in saying Switzerland would defend bank secrecy in the separate civil action being pursued against UBS by the US Internal Revenue Service.

    The IRS is demanding the bank reveal the names of all its US offshore clients, rather than just the tiny minority who set up sham companies to evade tax and whose names were disclosed last week.

    Mr Merz echoed senior Swiss bankers in questioning the chances of such an attempt succeeding in court.

    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009
  2. How come US government did not do anything until now about the tax evasion done by the Americans via UBS? Why dd they wait so long?
  3. it's because the new obama administration is the one's going after all the corruption and fraud. Look at how they are watching the stimulus being spent.

    bush jr doesn't have the brain capacity to do something like that.

  4. Illum


    1) Swiss are powerless to save UBS. UBS offices are right here to be raided.

    2) They can complain about the US all they want, all of Europe wants those accounts in the open now too.