Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Switzerland guards world's dirtiest secret

Is anyone surprised to hear that Switzerland is still holding out against identifying tens of thousands of rich Americans who have been hiding millions of dollars in secret bank accounts to skirt U.S. taxes? Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, told a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday that it would not release client names, despite a settlement last month that ostensibly required just that. "UBS has now complied ... to the fullest extent possible without subjecting its employees to criminal prosecution in Switzerland," said Mark Branson, chief financial officer of UBS Global Wealth Management and Swiss Bank, according to the Reuters international news service. But that's just more empty rhetoric from Switzerland's banking industry, which still refuses to fully disclose its holdings from Nazi Germany. Swiss banks probably still hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property looted from victims of the Nazi conquest of Europe during World War II and refuse to release more than a small amount of information about it. So why would the U.S. government expect them to divulge the names of rich American clients dodging something as minor as U.S. taxes? UBS even paid $780 million last month in that settlement -- the giant bank must have thought that was like hush money. Of course, UBS and the rest of European banks are now in a colossal hole as a result of the global financial crisis, and now need government support to stay in business. Well, if the people of Europe -- like the people of the United States -- are going to have to pay for the opulent bank lifestyle, they are entitled to get some answers about what's been going on.

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