James Moore: Let's tackle bank secrecy – everywhere

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The Independent Online

Outlook: The spotlight that is now (belatedly) shining down on UBS is showing up some very ugly things. It now appears that the vast majority of the thousands of wealthy people whose account details are to be handed to the US authorities are suspected of serious fraud rather than just common or garden tax evasion. According to the Swiss authorities, that is.

The financial details of about 4,450 UBS clients are to be handed over, and 4,200 of them are suspected of "advanced and serious fraud".

A further 250 are suspected of the lesser offences of tax dodging.

The fun will really start when the information reaches the authorities and names start to be named in indictments.

American capitalism might have a litany of failings, but it certainly appears more than capable of dealing with white collar criminals, who are (more or less) treated like their blue collar equivalents.

And as time goes by US fraud cops are only getting better at bringing these people to book while investigators on this side of the pond look on enviously, neutered as they are by a legal system that makes it maddeningly difficult to bring thieves in suits to book.

The Swiss like to claim that their cherished banking secrecy has survived this purge, which covers accounts with assets of about SFr 1m (£590,000) or more and revenues over three years of SFr100,000. And it only applies to accounts held between 2001 and 2008 by US citizens who are resident in the US, where the authorities have sufficient clout to force the issue.

It's hard to see how this is the case. A door has been opened and it is still very much ajar.

Let's not mention the war, but Swiss banking secrecy has covered a multitude of sins. It benefits no one but the hyper-wealthy, and, from what the information released yesterday suggests, the dishonest.

If there are fraudsters from the US sheltering their ill-gotten gains in Swiss hiding places, the chances are that there are fraudsters from other countries too. Isn't it time the details of their accounts were also released? And, for that matter, those of tax evaders too?

It's not just the Swiss, of course. There are other hidey holes around the world that, at the very least, derive undue benefit from allowing people to avoid paying tax. (Some of them are very close to home.)

The Swiss door is not the only one that has been prised open in recent months. There have been other successes in other parts of the world. But more needs to be done, and having dealt with bonus boys, who (as they constantly like to remind us) did nothing illegal, perhaps its time to look at those whose criminality is abundantly clear.

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