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Swiss-US tax data transfer method ‘violates law’

Adrian Lobsiger
Swiss Data Protection Commissioner Adrian Lobsiger say the Finance Ministry has failed to heed his earlier demands. © KEYSTONE / PETER SCHNEIDER

The Swiss Data Protection Commissioner has issued a legal complaint against the Finance Ministry for sending the names of bank employees, lawyers, accountants and other third parties to the United States to assist with tax evasion investigations.

The Swiss Supreme Court has already issued a ruling that bans the indiscriminate disclosure of people’s names without forewarning the individuals involved. This applies even when Switzerland has a treaty to automatically exchange tax information with other countries, as it does with 30 nations including the US.



The human cost of bank data exchange

This content was published on Max*, who used to work at a prominent Swiss bank, tells about the mental strain of living with the fear of being arrested, extradited and dragged into a US criminal investigation.  Having worked on the North America desk of his bank’s wealth management unit, Max’s name was handed over to the US authorities without his…

Read more: The human cost of bank data exchange

These treaties were signed following a US criminal probe into the way Swiss banks helped tax evaders. The investigation and threats of legal sanctions brought about the demise of Swiss banking secrecy. 

Data Protection Commissioner, Adrian Lobsiger, believes the Finance Ministry is failing to observe the court’s ruling on protecting the rights of individuals caught up in the transfer of data. His office told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper that it had issued a complaint to the Federal Administrative Court on Friday.

Government backing

“Because Switzerland wants to play the role of international model pupil, Swiss citizens are being deprived of their most basic rights,” lawyer Adrian Rüd, who represents clients who are contesting their names being handed over, told the newspaper.

The tax administration says it is too costly to black out all the names on thousands of pages of documents being handed to the US, the article states. It also states that Finance Minister Ueli Maurer has the backing of the cabinet on this issue, arguing that failure to comply with US demands for data could result in damaging repercussions.

A spokesman for the Finance Ministry told the SonntagsZeitung that the department has authority to send data to countries that have a functioning constitutional system. Swiss citizens therefore have the opportunity to dispute proceedings in other countries, which result from their names being handed over, by arguing that the evidence is inadmissible.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR