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UBS Ending Offshore Swiss Bank Accounts

This article was written by in Banking. 7 comments.

If you are one of the many Americans with an offshore bank account with UBS, the largest bank based in Switzerland, your name may be among those reported to the IRS. UBS has admitted that the bank has been conspiring to defraud the United States and the Internal Revenue Service. The bank will pay $780 million to settle the case. From 2002 to 2007, Americans hid a total of $20 billion from the IRS and avoided paying $300 million each year in taxes.

In exchange for protection from indemnity for the bank’s senior executives, UBS is turning over a small percentage of identities from the 19,000 bank accounts under investigation and closing the accounts of its American clients.

The tradition of secrecy within Swiss bank accounts apparently dates back to the Middle Ages.

A Swiss Bank Is Set to Open Its Secret File, Lynnley Browning, New York Times, February 18, 2009.

Published or updated February 19, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Smithee

I know that wealthy folks have power and resources that other people don’t, and this doesn’t solve any overall problems, but I still feel a kind of vindicated happiness that it’ll make some of our most annoying cheaters sweat for a while.

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avatar Tim

this is why i use Lichtenstein banks, because they are more secretive and protected than swiss banks; however, given Lichtenstein bank LGT had a leak, i’m not so sure Lichtenstein is safe anymore either. people should have seen the writing on the wall with swiss banks, especially after they paid jewish holocaust restitution.

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avatar James

What about the Holocaust Fairness Restitution Act?

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avatar the weakonomist

I had a friend that worked in UBS Wealth Management. They used very sophisicated terminology to convince customers it was OK. Many of them had no idea they were hiding money.

But this won’t stop the hiding of money. You still have Belize, the Caymans, other Swiss banks, etc..

But still, small victory I suppose.

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avatar William Fitzgerald

A lot of people and press have the wrong idea about Swiss private banking – Swiss private banking is more about good wealth management then Tax fraud. The wealthy will use a Swiss private bank because they know that they will get the best Swiss banking services and that their money is safe.

Switzerland was not hit by the present credit crunch – That was due to good banking and that Swiss banks are over seen by the Swiss banking federation, who keep close tabs on all Swiss banks.

A Swiss private banker gets to know his clients, he will put togther a wealth management package for the long term safe guard of his client.

Swiss private banks want their clients to feel safe – They do not encourage Tax evasion but they will help with Tax avoidance which is a 100% legal.

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avatar Mike

As an expat living in Hong Kong, I have to take issue with one point made by “the weakonomist” in message #3: under no circumstances can sophisticated UBS terminology be blamed here for Americans having “no idea” about what they were doing. Because the fact is, even if those Americans never disclosed the bank account to the Treasury Dept. by sending in the F-Bar form by June 30, there simply is nothing even remotely sophisticated or confusing about the little box you have to check on your 1040 saying that yes, indeed, you do have a foreign bank account; and there is nothing mysterious or sophisticated or even slightly confusing about the fact that if you’re a US citizen you are required to report ALL income worldwide, even if it’s interest income earned in an undisclosed bank account. Indeed, anyone who has watched The Untouchables knows that even illegally-earned income is fully-taxable. So not reporting the proceeds of a bank robbery (which is obviously illegal income) or not reporting interest earned in a foreign account (which is entirely legal income) are both illegal, because they both constitute income that falls under the entirely unsophisticated and transparent word “ALL”, as in “all income.”

It would take a particularly dim-witted person not to understand what the word “all” means– if a person doesn’t report all of his/ her income it is almost always intentional.

Not that I blame them. I think the Swiss are onto something: last I heard, in Switzerland tax evasion (and no, I don’t mean tax “avoidance”) was a mere civil offense, not a criminal one.

One thing I wonder about the UBS case, though: unless there’s some sort of terrorism or other criminal activity involved (and under Swiss law, tax evasion doesn’t count), then cooperating with the US in revealing these customer names would merit a prison sentence in Switzerland. Because it IS a criminal offense in Switzerland to violate bank secrecy by turning over information to the government, other than in very selective cases of criminal activity on the part of bank clients. So how is this being finessed? Presumably UBS officials wouldn’t cooperate with the US if that would put them in a Swiss prison?

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avatar thomas

What a shame – people will have to pay their taxes.

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