US moves are "aimed at tax cheats", not banks

The managers of the Wegelin bank are solely responsible for their problems with the United States legal authorities, according to the US ambassador to Switzerland.

This content was published on February 5, 2012

In an interview published in the SonntagsBlick on Sunday, Donald Beyer says the managers must have known about the risk they were incurring in taking over US clients of UBS when the justice authorities clamped down on the larger bank in 2009 after it admitted helping wealthy Americans hide money to avoid paying tax.

"They should have known that these activities are illegal, and that the US tax authorities would react," Beyer says.

But he says he does not know why Wegelin sold off the non-US portion of its business at the end of January, since any likely fine would not have brought the bank down.

While he understands Swiss anger at the US proceedings, he says it rests on a misunderstanding.

“The Swiss see what the US is doing as an attack on Swiss banks. The US sees it quite differently. We want all US citizens to pay their taxes. We are not going after Swiss banks, but after US tax evaders.”

The SonntagsZeitung reports that the Swiss government is drawing up a “white money” strategy to be ready at the end of February. It says Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is to propose that all banks should demand a declaration from their foreign clients that they have paid taxes on the money they want to invest.  

Fulvio Pelli, the chairman of the centre right Radical Party, told the Zentralschweiz am Sonntag newspaper that banks which had taken over UBS clients had acted shortsightedly and been too clever for their own good. This behaviour had been “unacceptable”.

But he accused the US of doublespeak, saying Delaware was an “oasis” for tax evaders, and Florida a “stomping ground” for money launderers and weapons dealers.

“We are in a an economic war. It‘s nothing to do with morality for the US, but with money.”

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