Friday, November 28, 2008

Swedish banking secrecy laws could be victim of global downturn

The global downturn could lead to the elimination or at least to limitations on Switzerland's famous banking secrecy laws if a U.S.-launched tax investigation has the desired effect. The United States has demanded the identities of 17,000 account holders it claims are hiding billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts to avoid U.S. taxes, but Switzerland has only agreed to consider releasing a few hundred names. Swiss banking giant UBS said Thursday that an internal investigation has found only a few cases of tax fraud, according to the Reuters international news service. "Our investigations have uncovered a limited number of cases of tax fraud under both U.S. and Swiss law," UBS Chairman Peter Kurer announced Thursday at a meeting of shareholders in Lucerne, according to Reuters. Kurer said bank-client confidentiality "is not there to protect cases of tax fraud," hinting at a possible settlement of the U.S. government's claims. UBS has lost billions of dollars in the global economic downturn and has been forced to write off $49 billion in subprime loans. But it's still difficult to trust Switzerland, which still refuses to come clean about its handling of billions of dollars seized by Nazi Germany during World War II and has only reluctantly begun to acknowledge the billions of dollars in deposits from German Jews and others slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps during the Nazi era.

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