Swiss bankers conclude US charm offensive
A Swiss delegation of bankers and regulators has completed two days of talks with United States politicians and businessmen, as part of lobbying efforts to prove that Switzerland is serious about combating financial crime.
The head of the Swiss Bankers Association, Urs Roth, told swissinfo that the response from the business community in New York on Thursday had been "positive", matching Wednesday's response from Washington.
The delegation's so-called "charm offensive" started in the capital Washington on Wednesday when it hosted a luncheon presentation for around 100 people, which included congressmen, senators and congressional aides to the Bush Administration.
The luncheon was billed as an informal seminar and featured presentations by, among others, the Director of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission, Daniel Zuberbuhler, the Managing Director of UBS, Hans-Peter Bauer, and the head of the Swiss Bankers Association, Urs Roth.
Wednesday's event followed a similar meeting with European Union officials last December but was the first direct and high-profile lobbying effort by the Swiss banking industry in Washington in six years.
At a press briefing after the seminar, Jacques Rossier, Managing Partner with Darier Hentsch and Co., defended banking secrecy in Switzerland, although he admitted it was "not an absolute right".
He added that "Switzerland has among the most stringent laws on money laundering, and enforcement is swifter in Switzerland than in other countries".
He was supported by the Federal Banking Commission's Daniel Zuberbuhler, who indicated that Swiss regulators investigate 70 per cent of reports about suspicious transactions.
In an interview with swissinfo Roth was quick to point out that the US shared the same basic concepts and objectives as the Swiss in combating white collar crime.
For their part, some of the Americans were sceptical about the effectiveness of Switzerland's money laundering legislation. A member of the House of Representatives staff, who did not want to be identified, told swissinfo that the Swiss delegates were "not very convincing" on the issue enforcing money laundering legislation.
"There was a tone of defensiveness in their presentation that put you on guard immediately and they gave no hard evidence that laws are being enforced," said the Congressional aide, who works on banking issues.
"The big loophole is tax evasion which is not recognised as a crime in [Swiss] law on money laundering", he explained.
Roth told swissinfo that he did not have the impression that the Swiss delegation had been defensive about this issue.
"We were able to promote financial privacy combined with the efforts that Switzerland is making in the field of combating financial crime," he said.
"We believe we share the credentials on information exchange which Secretary O'Neill spelt out a couple of weeks ago, where he said that the US wants to share information with other countries if and when there is suspicion of criminal activity. This is exactly the same as what Switzerland has been doing for decades." Roth added.
The luncheon had been down in the diary for a long time. Yet it happened on the same day as Democrats regained control of the Senate.
Asked by swissinfo about the potential impact of that power shift on Swiss banks, Roth predicted that "we may see more consumer protection initiatives, but I do not expect the power shift to affect Swiss companies operating in the United States".
The luncheon in Congress was paid for by the Swiss government. Ambassador Alfred Defago noted that "it would have been more difficult to hold such an event on Capitol Hill without involvement from the Embassy".
Defago also stressed that other governments regularly support events that are designed to promote their national interests and those of their industry to the American political circles.
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