Switzerland is the mother of all banking havens , the stronghold that for years has been besieged without giving up. Alone it is estimated that the Confederation will guard one third of all the clandestine wealth of the wealthiest families on the planet: 11,000 billion dollars, almost four times the GDP of Germany.
Switzerland surrenders on banking secrecy
Another year ago the “gnomes” considered themselves unassailable in their fortresses. They were determined to reject any request for transparency. In a memorable blitz, which preceded the Obama offensive, Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2008 fielded the secret services to obtain the list of German billionaires with Liechtenstein accounts. The principality’s reaction to espionage had been angry. A Vaduz leader spoke of “methods of the Nazi Gestapo”. The Swiss gave him strongholds. The Bern parliamentarian Thomas Mueller summoned “those Germans who were marching at the goose’s step, with leather boots and a black band on the forearm”.
The German pressure alone would not have been enough to overcome the strong resistance of Switzerland and Liechtenstein . The entry of the United States was decisive, with the change of administration that from Bush to Obama marked a turning point against fiscal laxity. At the height of the tension between Washington and Bern some “banques privées” in Geneva had to prohibit their top managers from traveling to America. They are the managers of great estates that for generations have kept the fortunes of the capitalist families of the planet safe from prying eyes. Suddenly exposed to arrests and interrogations on arrival at an American airport.
At the beginning of this year, parallel offensives by the United States and the European Union have found their way into the G20. At the London summit in early April, Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched the ” Name and Shame ” method, a ” list of outcasts “. Against the tax and banking havens the Great ones have decided to publish the lists of reprobate countries compiled by the OECD. With the understanding that concrete sanctions must follow the “pillory”.
A half success
However the successes in this battle are always partial, and provisional. The G20 in London proved a small, emblematic incident. Where Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to sign the agreement against banking paradises on one condition: that Hong Kong and Macao were not included in the list of “reprobates”. Two autonomous provinces of the People’s Republic, as well as two offshore squares where the secret remains impenetrable. The risk, which they have long denounced in Bern, is that the great American and European tax evaders will leave Switzerland and Liechtenstein and move to the Far East. The run-up between guards and thieves will never end. He advised caution to find a headline on the front page of the New York Times : “The Congress sanctions the end of tax havens”. It is an archive copy dated February 4, 1962, when John Kennedy was at the White House.
For now, the Washington Department of Justice is content, pragmatically, to bring home a substantial recovery of revenue. The more the deterrent effect that accompanies such a victory: for high incomes in the United States there is the feeling that the wind has changed, compared to the fiscal permissiveness of the Bush era. The spontaneous surrender of many clients of the UBS, who were confessed thanks to the amnesty, can have a pedagogical power. In this group, the victory goes to the Internal Revenue Service.