David Prosser: Time to say hard cheese to Swiss banks

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The Independent Online

Outlook It really should be curtains for Swiss banking this time. UBS may feel it got off lightly in yesterday's settlement with the US government, in that it is handing over details of only 4,450 accounts the Americans believe are being used by its citizens to evade tax, rather than the 52,000 originally requested. However, the fact that UBS is disclosing any details at all means that no one will ever feel sure again that their anonymity will be preserved with a Swiss bank.

Still, since the Swiss government insists on engaging in a public face-saving exercise, declaring yesterday that its laws were unaffected by the UBS case, it's time the international community disabused it of this self-delusion. If Switzerland continues to pretend it can hide behind a legal system that criminalises tax fraud but not tax evasion, it should be forced to change its laws just so that there is no doubt about its status.

After all, the OECD – and the US in particular – has systematically bullied almost every small tax haven into falling into line with international agreements about disclosure. Why should Switzerland, by virtue of its wealth and relative size, be allowed to continue aiding the citizens of countries with whom it is supposedly on good terms to avoid paying taxes?

In the meantime, why aren't other governments – including our own for that matter – taking the same aggressive stance on Swiss banking as the Americans? Britons holding cash in Switzerland aren't necessarily evading tax by doing so – some may be entitled only to pay any duty due when they bring the cash back onshore – but unless their account details are disclosed, there's no way for HM Revenue & Customs to check.

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