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Government keeps mum, banks play defense

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Germany’s finance minister has demanded to see the leaked banking data, France’s government is wrestling with the fallout from its finance minister’s demise due to a hidden bank account, and British politicians have called on Prime Minister David Cameron to act after the British Virgin Islands were shown to play a major role in hiding money offshore. But so far, Switzerland’s government has stayed on the sidelines of the offshore banking leak, with the federal prosecutor’s office stating only that it deals in facts and hasn’t seen the data behind the media reports

This content was published on April 5, 2013 - 21:06

The government’s passivity could have to do with the fact that Switzerland was only minimally impacted by the revelations in the grand scheme of things, as the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) stated on Friday. SIF, which is attached to the finance ministry, also said the leaks confirm that Swiss financial policies are heading in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean the going has been easy – Swiss banks and the government have been wrestling with how to make sure the money coming into the country’s banks is clean, with a couple of proposals on the table but no final decisions on the horizon.

Although the Swiss Bankers’ Association (SBA) says its institutions are prepared to meet incoming money with more scrutiny in the future, it strongly opposes the government’s proposals for proofing existing accounts. For example, one proposal would have banks scrutinise and possibly close accounts of customers who ask for seemingly unfounded security measures and who list suspicious account beneficiaries.

SBA President Patrick Odier has said banks would “vehemently” defend themselves against “over-regulation”, even threatening that Swiss banks could open branches abroad in the near future if they are asked to interfere too much at the customer level and terminate existing business relationships.

It seems the two sides have a long way to go before a compromise is reached – time will tell whether this week’s revelations speed up the process.

Veronica DeVore, swissinfo.ch

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