The United States legal system combines great expertise with ‘absurd, imperialistic brutality’, warns former UBS bank chairman Peter Kurer in an interview in the Die Zeit newspaper.This content was published on January 3, 2014 - 11:15
Europeans need to have respect for the US legal system, Kurer told the German weekly paper, as “it’s a mix of great expertise but also absurd, imperialistic brutality”.
Kurer was UBS chairman from April 2008 to April 2009 after spending seven years as the company’s top legal advisor. He now works at the investment firm BLR & Partners.
“For each solution there is also a problem,” declared Kurer. “In general the pre-eminence of international law is no longer accepted…and American law has become more ethnocentric.”
In 2009 the Swiss bank was implicated in a US tax evasion probe. It agreed to turn over more than 4,450 client names and pay a $780 million fine after admitting criminal wrongdoing in selling tax-evasion services to wealthy Americans.
Other Swiss banks have since been caught in the cross hairs of the US justice system. At least 60 Swiss banks have agreed to sign up for a tax declaration programme allowing them to come clean about American tax-dodging clients.
The former UBS chairman criticised the heavy fines imposed by the US on foreign firms as a “pretext” and tool for defending American multinationals and protecting US markets.
But banks are not the only organisations threatened by fines, said Kurer. There is also ‘any super profitable company like oil or pharmaceutical groups’.
“In the month of October alone, the US handed out fines to foreign multinationals worth $24 billion,” he added.
Kurer said European lawyers were less prepared and ‘more naïve’ than their US counterparts who had become experts in the art of ‘naming and shaming’.
He took over as chairman in 2008 from the discredited Marcel Ospel during a turbulent period for the bank, and was himself replaced by former Swiss finance minister Kaspar Villiger in a top management clear-out designed to drag the beleaguered bank out of its deepest ever crisis.
Looking back at his time at the helm of UBS, Kurer admitted he “would certainly not do things exactly the same way again”. “We underestimated the social and legal ramifications,” he said.
“It was obvious to me at the start of 2009 that this problem would not be limited to UBS but would involve the entire Swiss banking system. This observation forced us to resolve the matter as quickly as possible without thinking about personal losses…the central issue was that the first one out of it would be the first to position themselves in the future.”
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