For a country that usually likes to stay under the radar, Switzerland continues to get a lot of attention when it comes to its banking laws and international taxes.
Yes, things are still shaking out, with the names of the "most-wanted" account holders at the giant Swiss bank UBS to be handed over to U.S. tax investigators.
Just last week, the Federal Tax Administration in Bern finished reviewing the first 500 files of UBS clients that the IRS suspects of tax fraud. But the Swiss will not turn over the list, per two countries agreement, until the account holders have exhausted the appeals process.
Whisteblower reward on the way? Meanwhile, one of the bankers who helped unravel the secret Swiss accounts now wants to be paid for his part in outing his former U.S. clients.
Bradley C. Birkenfeld, a former private banker with UBS, has been sentenced to 40 months in prison for
helping his evasive clients.
But once he gets out, he's hoping he'll be able to rebuild his life with billions of dollars he says he should get as a reward for whistleblowing.
If Birkenfeld and his lawyers (yes, there are always lawyers involved) succeed, it would be the largest reward of its kind.
And it looks like Birkenfeld's loose tax lips have given him a pretty good shot at a pretty darn good payday.
In court filings, the Justice Department has acknowledged
that the information from Birkenfeld, a 44-year-old American who worked at the Swiss bank, was the crucial factor leading to the criminal
investigation of UBS.
"Without Mr. Birkenfeld walking into the door of the Department of Justice in summer of 2007, I doubt this massive fraud scheme would have been discovered by the United States government," wrote Justice Department prosecutor Kevin M. Downing in filings in Birkenfeld's case.
Swiss votes on tax treaties: While all this is going on in the U.S., back in Europe the Swiss seem to be taking a page from the U.S. when it comes to tax law changes.
The government's tax agreements with other countries, an effort to make the Alpine tax haven's laws more transparent and get it off an international list of bad tax actors, might be going before the country's electorate.
The Swiss government has asked its parliament to approve five new tax treaties as part of its effort to counter the country's stigma of being an international tax haven and said the deals should be subject to an optional referendum.
Essentially, the new double-taxation agreements will mean Switzerland will cooperate more fully with foreign tax authorities seeking information from hidden offshore accounts. Also, the country will no longer distinguish between tax evasion and tax fraud.
Votes on the treaties certainly would
make Swiss who oppose changes to the country's banking secrecy laws
happy, but it also could slow efforts to remove the pejorative "tax
The Swiss exercise of democracy when it comes to the tax treaties will no doubt slow things down, Gyorg Lütz, project director of Swiss electoral studies at
Lausanne's Centre for Electoral Studies, told World Swiss Radio, but he noted that it's unclear whether the government really had a choice politically.
- Tax carrot + stick nab 14,700 scofflaws
- Swiss considering 'foreigner tax pledge'
- UBS deal sends wrong message
- Poor little Switzerland
- What's wrong with tax evasion?
- Offshore haven heresy: Taxes!
- Tax evasion, tax fraud, tomato, tomahto
- This is why I hate ballot referenda
- Ratting out tax cheats
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