Greek politician probed over Swiss account

A former Greek socialist minister can be prosecuted for failing to declare a Swiss bank account, a case related to a broader tax scandal plaguing the government, lawmakers have decided.

Greek politician probed over Swiss account
Former Greek cabinet minister Yiannos Papantoniou (centre) seen in this file photo with Socialist colleague and former PM George Papandreou (left). Photo: Fayez Nuredine/AFP

A parliament committee on Wednesday authorized judicial authorities to investigate Yiannos Papantoniou for failing to declare the sum of 1.3 million euros ($1.7 million), the state-run Athens News Agency reported on Thursday.

Prosecutors have already ordered a general investigation into Papantoniou's bank holdings.

One of Greece's longest-serving finance ministers who also headed the defence ministry, Papantoniou maintains that the Swiss account belongs to his wife.

The account in question is one of over 2,000 included on the so-called Lagarde list, a document which France's ex-finance minister and current IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave to Greek authorities in 2010 to help a tax evasion probe.

A succession of Greek finance ministers have faced criticism in recent months for failing to properly screen the data, which had been originally leaked by an HSBC employee in Geneva and has been used by a number of European states to crack down on tax cheats.

Earlier this month, parliament authorised an investigation into former socialist finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who is accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from the list.
Papaconstantinou has denied the charge, countering that the fight against chronic tax evasion in Greece actually intensified during his term.

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Switzerland’s banks remain among the world’s most secretive

Despite the progress made over the years, the Swiss financial sector continues to be one of the least transparent in the world. But there is good news too.

Switzerland’s banks remain among the world’s most secretive
Switzerland remains one of the world's least transparent nations. Photo AFP

Switzerland is in the third place in the 2020 Financial Secrecy Index released by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Tax Justice Network (TJN), which rates 133 nations based on their financial transparency.

Two other European countries, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, are also ranked among the top 10 least transparent nations on the TJN’s list.

Despite being in the third place, Switzerland ranks better this year than it did in the previous edition of the Index, which is released every two years — it slipped from the first to third place. The Cayman Islands and the United States took the first and second spots, respectively.

Switzerland reduced its risk of being an offshore haven for tax cheats by 12 percent, “finally improving enough to move off the top of the index”, TJN said. 

READ MORE: Switzerland's strangest taxes – and what happens if you don't pay them

This improvement is mainly due to Switzerland extending its international network for the automatic exchange of customer information to more than 100 countries. 

Also, in a referendum held last year, Swiss voters accepted the Federal Act on Tax Reform and AVS Financing (TRAF). This legislation introduced major changes in the Swiss tax system by ending some preferential tax schemes and replacing them with new regulations which are in line with international standards.

This tax reform prompted the European Union to change Switzerland's status from ‘tax haven' to one which is EU-compliant, removing strict controls on transactions within the EU. 

So why, despite all the reforms, does Switzerland still rank among the world’s least transparent nations?

According to a Swiss NGO Alliance Sud, wealthy people from poor countries can still hide their money here from the tax authorities of their home nations.

Alliance Sud noted that despite the progress made in the past years by Swiss financial institutions, “the fight against tax evasion remains insufficient”.

Switzerland is the world’s biggest centre for managing offshore wealth, with a quarter of global assets invested here.

For years, it has been placed on various lists of tax havens where wealthy foreigners could park their money. Faced with widespread criticism for this practice, Switzerland passed an anti-money laundering law in 1997 and introduced strict regulations against tax evasion.