US ambassador deplores violence linked to video

Sees no excuse for violence: Donald Beyer, US ambassador to Switzerland Keystone

Donald Beyer, the US ambassador to Switzerland, has criticised the violence sparked by a film that pokes fun at Islam. In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, Beyer also commented on whistle-blowing and the ongoing tax dispute between the two nations.

This content was published on September 16, 2012 - 14:43

“Anger is one thing, but when it erupts into violence, that’s something else completely,” said Beyer in reference to the film and the ensuing attacks on and demonstrations at US embassies around the world.

The American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in Benghazi on Tuesday along with three other Americans when a mob stormed the consulate there.

Beyer had not yet viewed the film in question – “The Innocence of Muslims” – but said that he planned to. The 14-minute trailer for the film, which focuses on the Prophet Mohammed, has been blocked from YouTube in some countries.

Asked if he felt safe in Bern, Beyer noted that Switzerland was perhaps the safest nation in the world.

“But of course we’ve undertaken the necessary steps to increase security. We know that terrorists also zero in on supposedly safe targets,” he said.

On whistleblowers

Beyer also commented on Bradley Birkenfeld, who this week received $104 million (SFr97.6 million) from the US tax authorities in a tax fraud case against Swiss bank UBS. Beyer admitted that he had not expected it to be such a large sum, but pointed out that US law requires whistle-blowers to get a certain percentage of the amount of missing tax money recovered.

The SonntagsZeitung, noting that many Swiss politicians were appalled, asked whether Beyer could understand that a lawbreaker had been rewarded.

“There’s a tradition of whistle-blowing in America. When people uncover abuses, they usually lose their jobs – risking a lot and destroying the lives that they had… Birkenfeld served 30 months in prison, so he suffered, too,” Beyer pointed out.

Tax spat

Beyer denied that the US presidential elections were to blame for slow progress in terms of the Swiss-American taxation accord. He said one of the hurdles was negotiations about settlement payments as well as the fact that a US senator had blocked ratification of the accord. Also, there was another big problem.

“What about things that happened before the double-taxation accord came into force? We need information on this as well,” Beyer said, noting that the US would want access to pre-accord data. “But this is a tricky point in the negotiations because Swiss law forbids the pursuit of activities that occurred during that period.”

Lastly, the newspaper asked Beyer about reports of the children of a Swiss banker being held for questioning about their father when they arrived in the US for a vacation.

“We’ve been trying to verify that for weeks. The border guards have no record of it. It would really surprise me. We focus on terrorists, not on bankers.”

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