The Swiss media have described parliament's acceptance of the
UBS-IRS agreement as an important step in ending the sanctity of banking
On Thursday, parliament sealed the deal
allowing the United States access to confidential UBS data on bank
clients suspected of tax evasion.
"Reason has prevailed after all," is how the
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) put it, saying that Switzerland now has a
chance to demonstrate its reliability as a partner for the US.
La Liberté took a far more critical stance in its editorial, saying
that Switzerland had bent down like only an invertebrate can do.
noted that the "holy cow" of banking secrecy had been sacrificed on the
altar of the powerful to preserve Switzerland's economic interests.
a the Geneva-based Le Temps pointed out though, the accord was
degrading for some, while necessary for others.
"[That it] allows
the details of 4,450 UBS clients to be passed on to the US tax
authorities is the disagreeable political price to be paid for a series
of mistakes and for a blindness from which the lessons have certainly
not all yet been learned."
According to Le Temps, the "conflict of
sovereignty would not have occurred ... if Switzerland, its government
the majority of parliamentarians had been able to see at the right time
that a broad definition of bank secrecy was less and less acceptable to
our partners and that one day it would put us in an untenable
"Like many countries, Switzerland has a hard time
dealing with the unpleasant sides of its history ... (but) it's much
harder for countries with more painful pasts," said Zurich's
The newspaper suggested that Switzerland could
redeem itself through a commission of truth to examine questions like
how could the banking sector offer its foreign clients tax evasion as a
key part of its business model? And how could a whole nation moor its
identity to such a practice?
The editorial in the Neue Zürcher
Zeitung echoed these sentiments: "It's alarming and hard to believe that
for years, financial advisers systematically broke American tax law out
of pure greed, and that their bosses were not aware of it."
Tages-Anzeiger predicted that a minority of UBS clients would face
criminal charges, and that a few of them might end up in prison. They
noted that only 126 clients had attempted to prevent having their data
turned over to the US tax authorities.
On the other side of the Atlantic, US officials
declared themselves very satisfied with the outcome.
taken two years, but the action of the Swiss parliament [on Thursday]
hopefully means that the United States will finally get the names of
more than 4,400 US accountholders suspected of opening Swiss bank
accounts to dodge payment of US taxes," said Senator Carl Levin in a
Levin, a Democrat representing Michigan, has devoted
considerable time to the issue of offshore tax abuse.
"I hope it
also means that the Swiss have decided they will no longer allow bank
secrecy to be used to facilitate tax evasion," said Levin.
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said he expected the Swiss government
to act fast in turning over the files on American account holders by the
August 19 deadline.
In a statement, Shulman said the American
authorities, upon receiving the data, would take immediate action and
apply the law very vigorously against those who tried to escape their
fiscal responsibilities by hiding their assets abroad.
Yet some American non-governmental
organisations specialising in financial and state accountability believe
that UBS is getting off too lightly.
They say the $780 million
fine (SFr866 million) was ridiculously small, considering the sums that
are at stake. They also expressed concern that the deal requires UBS to
reveal the names of less than a quarter of its American clients.
news is bittersweet. While the Swiss government will finally be
releasing the names, the outcome is far from a fairytale ending for
taxpayers," said Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National
Kohn is also the attorney for Bradley
Birkenfeld, whom he describes as "the most important fraud whistleblower
in American history resulting in one of the largest collections ever".
Yet he says the deal cut with UBS allows most violators to get off
"The message from the Birkenfeld case should have
been: if you illegally shelter the money you will get caught, if you
turn in fraud you will be rewarded. Instead, the message being sent by
the Justice Department and UBS is clear: if you get caught your wrist
will be mildly slapped, if you turn in the fraud you will go to jail."
Vogel-Misicka, swissinfo.ch (With input from Marie-Christine Bonzom in