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  Swiss Talk Tough In Banking Battle
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Last EditedArmyDem  Mar 29, 2009 09:03am
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MediaNewspaper - Washington Post
News DateSunday, March 29, 2009 03:00:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionBlacklist Threat Looms Over Tax Havens

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 29, 2009; Page A07

BERN, Switzerland -- This country may be politically neutral, but the Swiss are girding for battle to protect one of their most cherished values: banking secrecy.

This week, when the world's economic powers meet in London to address the global financial crisis, the agenda will include a crackdown on tax havens -- places such as Switzerland, where tax-dodging investors can safely and anonymously hide their assets.

Swiss lawmakers and bankers, despite making recent concessions on tax policy, are worried about being placed on a blacklist or slapped with sanctions. Even worse, they fear that investors could panic and withdraw some of the estimated $2 trillion in foreign assets deposited here, threatening the economic fabric of the Alpine nation.

President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who is also the country's finance minister, predicted a domestic political revolt if Switzerland is blacklisted. "This would cause very, very violent reactions in our country," he said in an interview in Bern, the capital. "People here would consider it a humiliation."

Unlike in most countries, tax evasion is not a criminal offense in Switzerland. The confidentiality of financial transactions is strictly protected, with bankers obligated to safeguard information about their customers, akin to attorney-client privilege in the United States.
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