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Media blame banks for caving in to US pressure

AFP · 6 Feb 2012, 08:41

Published: 06 Feb 2012 08:41 GMT+01:00

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Swiss banks came under fire in Sunday newspapers for giving in to US demands on banking secrecy.

"Swiss banks capitulate" wrote the French-language Le Matin Dimanche describing a situation of panic "since the blow to Bank Wegelin."

Switzerland's oldest bank Wegelin faces US criminal charges on allegations it helped Americans evade paying taxes on assets that could be valued at $1.2 billion.

The finance ministry said on January 31st that it would hand over thousands of encoded bank documents to US investigators.

Le Matin Dimanche said Wegelin had been in the sights of US authorities since 2009.

The mass circulation German-language Sonntags Blick carried this front page headline: "Tax sinners: Swiss banks have betrayed 29,700 Americans."

Wegelin was founded in 1741, but on January 27th it announced the sale of its non-US activities to fellow Swiss bank Raiffeisen "as a consequence of the increasingly threatening situation surrounding Wegelin & Co Private Bankers in the US tax dispute".

Sonntags Blick carried a double page interview with the US Ambassador to Switzerland Donald Beyer in which the envoy said the bank should have known it was illegal to take clients of UBS.

"The management of the bank should know the risks involved. It is clear that the U.S. tax authorities would react," said Beyer.

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"Tax dispute: federal authorities plan white money strategy" was the headline in Sonntags Zeitung, referring to a plan to cooperate with other jurisdictions on tax evasion whilst protecting customer identity.

"We face all the consequences of our responsibilities and will focus on the pending litigation with US law enforcement agencies," Wegelin senior managing partner Konrad Hummler was quoted as saying.

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