Swiss Bank Secrecy Pledges Do Not Go Far Enough Says US Expert

Promised changes in Swiss bank secrecy will still not allow the US access to the information that want, according to tax haven expert Raymond Baker of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank.

In an interview with swiss media agency swissinfo
he maintains that recent decision to adopt OECD standards will not do enough to catch tax evaders.

 ”This announcement is not a significant step because it does not change Swiss laws on banking secrecy. In fact, what the Swiss government said in essence is that if a foreign government knows what it is looking for, the Swiss authorities will cooperate. But the government has given itself lots of leeway for denying requests for information.”

The Swiss for example have only agreed to hand over information in response to requests with specific evidence on a case by case basis. However Baker would rather they also gave in to so called ‘fishing expeditions’ even if evidence of illegality is unclear. He proposes that the OECD standards should be amended to allow for this:

”It is important that these standards are expanded, in particular to allow governments to request information from Switzerland and other tax havens, even if foreign governments only have reason to believe that funds are deposited there illegally.”

If the OECD model is changed as Baker suggests, the ramifications could be huge, with people worldwide losing the privilege of bank secrecy at the whim of another country or just because they have an offshore account.
Baker also called for Switzerland to change its legal code to allow foreign governments easier access to personal data:

‘I want Switzerland to end the distinction between tax fraud and tax evasion. This baffling distinction is becoming increasingly untenable. It is obvious that most of the funds deposited in tax havens violate the law. I would like Switzerland to take the lead.”

It’s irresponsible and plain wrong to suggest that most funds in tax havens violate the law. Much may depend on whether citizens and governments worldwide are duped into giving up their rights by this type of rhetoric.

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