Swiss deals 'won't end tax evasion'
Zurich, September 14, 2011
Swiss banks are likely to keep helping tax dodgers hide their money, even after Berne struck deals with Germany and Britain to tax assets stashed in secret accounts, a banker-turned-whistleblower told Reuters.
"If you are going against these secrecy jurisdictions, you need global action, global commitment, otherwise there are going to be too many loopholes," former Julius Baer banker Rudolf Elmer said in an interview.
Last month, Switzerland agreed with Germany and Britain to tax money kept by their residents in Swiss accounts and also introduce a withholding tax on future interest payments that still preserves strict bank secrecy.
"It's a dirty deal because you hide the beneficial owner," Elmer said.
The deals sought to end bitter disputes over tax evasion, particularly with Germany, which has used stolen bank data, including data from Elmer, to hunt tax cheats.
Elmer, who was recently released from Swiss investigative custody over alleged breaches of the country's bank secrecy laws, said Swiss bankers were happy with the agreements as they are only set to come into force in 2013.
"There's plenty of time for tax evaders and others to move their assets to somewhere else in this world, like Singapore."
Elmer noted that recent US indictments of bankers alleged they had helped clients move their money to smaller Swiss banks from UBS after it was forced to pay a fine and reveal details of 4,450 clients to avoid criminal charges.
"It's a cat and mouse game," he said. "Some Swiss banks feel they are above the law."
German states run by the Social Democrats (SPD) want to block the Swiss deal in the upper house of parliament, calling it a "slap in the face of honest taxpayers", an SPD state official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
Elmer, who ran the Cayman Islands branch of Julius Baer until he was fired in 2002, helped bring the WikiLeaks website to prominence three years ago when he used it to publish client details from Julius Baer to expose tax evasion.
Julius Baer, which has denied its Cayman branch was used for tax dodging, has said Elmer waged a personal vendetta against the bank after it refused his demands for financial compensation following his 2002 dismissal.
Julius Baer paid a fine earlier this year to close a tax probe by German authorities, who have also raided the offices of Credit Suisse .
Elmer said Julius Baer had tried to discredit him to make sure "the spotlight is not on the wrongdoing but on the whistleblower".
"I'm going after the bank. The bank is going after me," he said.
Swiss police arrested Elmer in January after he gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discs he said at the time held data on hundreds of offshore account holders.
It later emerged the discs contained no secret data and Elmer was released in July after being held in isolation in a Zurich prison for six months, with only his lawyer and 12-year-old daughter allowed to visit.
"It was a symbolic handover," Elmer said of the discs. "I never referred to Switzerland or any Swiss bank."
Elmer praised the approach taken by the US authorities, which are pushing Switzerland to hand over details of thousands of US clients of Swiss banks including Credit Suisse.
"You can only change that sort of thing with the approach the Americans take. Those private bankers who supported tax evasion are criminals. There is no doubt about that, except in Switzerland," he said.
Sindy Schmiegel, spokeswoman for the Swiss Bankers Association, said it was the aim of the industry to focus on managing and acquiring taxed assets and regularising untaxed assets, which gave clients three options; have their Swiss accounts taxed anonymously, disclose themselves to their home taxman, or withdraw their assets from Switzerland. - Reuters