Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Swiss parliament rejected a bill designed to resolve a dispute over undeclared bank accounts held by U.S. citizens, potentially setting the stage for American prosecution of the country’s banks.
Members of parliament’s lower house voted 123 to 63 against the bill, which would have allowed Swiss banks to cooperate with the U.S. and to settle a long-running dispute over wealthy American tax evaders. The government has said it has no plan B, in the event of the bill failing to pass.
Switzerland wants to prevent the indictment of another of the country’s banks. Wegelin & Co. was indicted last year and pleaded guilty in January to helping U.S. taxpayers hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service. The bank had taken over clients from UBS AG, which avoided prosecution in 2009 by admitting it aided tax evasion, paying $780 million and handing over client names.
“I don’t think the Americans will really start a wave of indictments — such a scenario is unlikely,” said Peter V. Kunz, a professor of comparative law at the University of Bern. “I do however think one or other banker could face charges. But no one really knows. The legal risks and the legal uncertainties will remain for the Swiss financial sector. How it all will end is totally up in the air.”