Thursday, March 26, 2009

TJN in the FT: Swiss bank secrecy

We have this letter in the FT today, responding to an earlier long FT piece

Swiss secrecy laws had nothing to do with the Nazis

March 26 2009

From Mr Bruno Gurtner.

Sir, Your correspondent writes, in his article about Swiss bank secrecy (“A vault unlocked”, March 24), that Swiss secrecy laws “date back to 1934, when they were enacted partly to protect German Jews and trade unionists from the Nazis”. This is a big myth. The argument about it being set up to protect Jewish money first appeared in the November 1966 Bulletin of the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (today Credit Suisse). The main reason bank secrecy was strengthened in 1934 was a scandal two years earlier, when the Basler Handelsbank was caught in flagrante facilitating tax evasion by members of French high society, among them two bishops, several generals, and the owners of Le Figaro and Le Matin newspapers. Before that, there was professional secrecy (such as exists between doctors and their patients), and violation was a civil offence, not a criminal one as it is today. Swiss bank secrecy has always been an effective way to attract foreign money.

Many Swiss people are delighted that our country is going to stop blocking the exchange of information with other jurisdictions and will now follow Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development standards. For Switzerland this is a huge step. Other important steps must follow, to tackle other loopholes in the offshore world, such as those provided by British trusts and by other damaging facilities offered in Britain’s Crown Dependencies.

Bruno Gurtner,
Chair of the Global Board,
Tax Justice Network,
Bern, Switzerland

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