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Swiss abroad Renewed debate over banking laws for expats

PostFinance could be obliged to take on the Swiss abroad.

(Keystone/Gaetan Bally)

New efforts are underway in parliament to ensure that the Swiss abroad can keep banking and other aspects of a financial life in Switzerland.

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, an increasing number of Swiss citizens in other countries have been experiencing trouble keeping a bank account in Switzerland, especially if they reside in the United States.

The US and other countries long suspected Swiss banks of harbouring tax cheats, but traditional Swiss banking secrecy made this impossible to prove. That has changed. The long-running tax dodging dispute between US and Swiss authorities netted $1.36 billion (CHF1.38 billion) from 80 Swiss banks that admitted helping US citizens cheat on their taxes.

In May, a motionexternal link in Swiss parliament by conservative-right politician Roland Rino Büchel garnered widespread support but failed by just three votes. He had demanded that the big banks should be required under law to accept the Swiss abroad as customers. For him, the motion signaled fresh momentum of sorts, since it was only narrowly defeated.

Since then supporters of the idea have been mobilizing in parliament to put the issue on the agenda. According to Büchel, who is also a member of the Committee of the Organization of the Swiss Abroad (OSE), two new proposals are being prepared and gaining wide political support.

Pressure on the cabinet

Another parliamentarian, Filippo Lombardi, a vice-president of the OSE, plans to table a motion similar to those favored by Büchel.

Lombardi, a Ticino senator, stressed that it is absolutely necessary to relaunch the banking question on behalf of the Swiss abroad. "We want the Federal Council to move," he said. "And to compel it, we will try to get a majority in parliament. "

Another supporter, Socialist parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga, wants to force PostFinance to accept expatriate clients. Since it is the financial services arm of Swiss Post, he believes it has a duty to offer Swiss citizens the same services regardless of where they live.

He said he plans to bring a motion before parliament this summer, adding to momentum for the autumn session.

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