Category Archives: Switzerland

A Deadly Day: Russian Ambassador Assassinated, Berlin Truck Crash and Zürich Mosque Attacked

Amy Goodman speaks to Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of several books, about the three deadly events which took place on 19th December and the wider context surrounding them. (Democracy Now!)

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The Great Swiss Bank Heist

Patrick Radden Keefe reports for The New Yorker:

Hervé Falciani, who took client data from H.S.B.C., was indicted in Switzerland, jailed in Spain, and celebrated in France.A few days before Christmas in 2008, Hervé Falciani was in a meeting at his office, in Geneva, when a team of police officers arrived to arrest him. Falciani, who was thirty-six, worked for H.S.B.C., then the largest bank in the world. He was on the staff of the company’s private Swiss bank, which serves clients who are wealthy enough to afford the minimum deposit—half a million dollars—required to open an account. Falciani had been at H.S.B.C. for eight years, initially in Monaco and then in Geneva. He was a computer technician who helped supervise security systems for the handling of client data. He had grown up in Monaco, where as a young man he had worked as a croupier at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, and developed an excellent poker face. As the Swiss police escorted him from the building, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

Officers questioned Falciani at a nearby station. They were investigating a data theft from the bank. Since 1713, when the Great Council of Geneva banned banks from revealing the private information of their customers, Switzerland had thrived on its reputation as a stronghold of financial secrecy. International élites could place their fortunes beyond the reach of tax authorities in their own countries. For Swiss wealth managers, who oversaw more than two trillion dollars in international deposits, the promise to maintain financial privacy was akin to a religious vow of silence. Switzerland is the home of the numbered account: customers often specify that they prefer not to receive statements, in order to avoid a paper trail. In light of these safeguards, the notion of a breach at H.S.B.C. was shocking.

Police officials told Falciani that someone calling himself Ruben al-Chidiak had stolen client data from the bank. They weren’t sure how much information had been taken or how the theft had been engineered. But they suspected that Chidiak was a pseudonym, and that the real culprit was Falciani.

Falciani told the police that his job was to protect data: How could they accuse him of compromising such information? As darkness fell, he asked to go home. His wife, Simona, would be worried about him. The investigators released him, but instructed him to return for further questioning the next morning.

Falciani walked through streets strung with Christmas lights to his apartment, in a dingy building on the Rue des Mouettes. He and Simona packed a few bags, bundled their three-year-old daughter, Kim, against the cold, and prepared to flee the country. Despite his protests, Falciani had stolen the data.

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Banking Giant HSBC Sheltered Murky Cash Linked to Dictators and Arms Dealers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reports:

Swiss Leaks‘Secret documents reveal that global banking giant HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channeled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws.

The leaked files, based on the inner workings of HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm, relate to accounts holding more than $100 billion. They provide a rare glimpse inside the super-secret Swiss banking system — one the public has never seen before.

The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists via the French newspaper Le Monde, show the bank’s dealings with clients engaged in a spectrum of illegal behavior, especially in hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from tax authorities. They also show private records of famed soccer and tennis players, cyclists, rock stars, Hollywood actors, royalty, politicians, corporate executives and old-wealth families.

These disclosures shine a light on the intersection of international crime and legitimate business, and they dramatically expand what’s known about potentially illegal or unethical behavior in recent years at HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks.’

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HSBC files show bank helped clients dodge millions in tax

Markets Nervous Ahead of Swiss Gold Vote

Chiara Albanese and Ese Erheriene report for The Wall Street Journal:

Central bank gold reserves chart‘Gold and currencies markets are starting to show their first nerves ahead of a referendum in Switzerland that could potentially force the country’s central bank to buy thousands of metric tons of gold and never sell it, complicating its so far credible policies to hold down the franc.

A ‘yes’ result in the so-called “Save Our Swiss Gold” vote Nov. 30 wouldn’t be the end of the matter, with the controversial measure facing several hurdles before it could ever be passed into law.

Still, a ruling in favor of the motion would force the Swiss National Bank to hold some 20% of its about $547 billion assets in the precious metal, returning to the weighting it last held in gold in 2008. This harks back to a time when Switzerland held a dominant role in global gold markets.’

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FIFA to face same scrutiny as ‘worst dictators on this planet’

Keir Radnedge reports for World Soccer:

FIFA headquarters‘Legislative changes are on their way so Swiss law enforcement agencies can keep a closer eye on senior figures in the international sports federations which have long benefited from the country’s famous – or infamous – confidentiality culture.

Roland Buchel is a one-time ISL employee who now campaigns, in his role as national council member for the Swiss people’s party, for transparency in sport. He has been scathing about the murky behaviour of some administrators as their sports grew ever richer through multi-million TV and sponsorship deals.

He told an ethics conference* in Zurich that senior FIFA figures will soon fall within anti-money-laundering legislation meaning they “will have the same status as the worst dictators on this planet.”

Buchel identified these as including world football federation president Sepp Blatter and all members of his 27-strong executive committee. Also coming within the remit will be Olympic leader Thomas Bach and heads of other major world sports federations headquartered in Switzerland.’

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Switzerland ‘could grant Edward Snowden asylum if he testifies against NSA’

Natasha Culzac reports for The Independent:

‘Switzerland would grant Edward Snowden asylum if he revealed the extent of espionage activities by the US government, recommendations by the Swiss Attorney General reportedly conclude.

According to Swiss newspaper Sonntags Zeitung, an official has said that Mr Snowden should be guaranteed safe entry and residency in the country, in return for his knowledge on America’s intelligence activities.

Last month, Mr Snowden was told he could remain in Russia for another three years. He was not granted political asylum, but again awarded temporary residence as an extension of the one-year visa given to him last summer.’

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5 Things You Need to Know About Credit Suisse’s Criminal Charge: Interview with James Henry

‘Swiss bank Credit Suisse becomes the first bank to be criminally charged after the 2008 financial crash, but tax expert James Henry explains how this is not a real victory for citizens looking to hold bankers accountable.’ (The Real News)

Credit Suisse Bank Pleads Guilty to Decades of Tax Evasion, But Execs Avoid Prison

‘European banking giant Credit Suisse has pleaded guilty to helping American clients avoid paying taxes by concealing assets in illegal, undeclared bank accounts — becoming the largest bank to plead guilty to a criminal charge in 20 years. As part of the plea deal, Credit Suisse will pay about $2.6 billion in penalties and hire an independent monitor. But the bank will not be required to turn over the names of the Americans who used the bank to evade taxes. In addition, no senior Credit Suisse executives will face jail time and the bank will be allowed to continue operating in the United States. According to the New York Times, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted last week to grant Credit Suisse a temporary exemption from a federal law that requires a bank to hand over its investment-adviser license in the event of a guilty plea. We speak to James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey and Company, now a senior advisor to the Tax Justice Network and senior fellow at the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment.’ (Democracy Now!)

Swiss voters reject plan to establish world’s highest minimum wage

Julia Kollewe reports for The Guardian:

Swiss francs and euros‘Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to create what would have been the world’s highest minimum wage after siding with the government and business leaders in a referendum. The plan, which would have pushed up the basic annual salary for a 35-hour week to £27,000, was rejected by 75% of voters. It would have required employers to pay workers a minimum of 22 Swiss francs (£14.66) an hour.

Government ministers opposed the proposal, made by the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions and supported by the Socialist and Green parties, arguing that it would put smaller companies out of business. Adjusted for the country’s high prices, the Swiss proposal would have meant a wage equivalent to £8.33 an hour based on a 42-hour week, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).’

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Switzerland May Soon Have World’s Highest Minimum Wage

Christopher Zara reports for The International Business Times:

Swiss FlagOn May 18, Swiss voters will decide a referendum that would create a national minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs ($24.99) per hour, or 4,000 francs per month. If approved, the measure would give Switzerland the highest minimum wage in the world. The initiative was proposed by SBG, the country’s largest trade union, with support from the Swiss Socialist Party. Switzerland currently has no minimum wage written into law, but about 90 percent of Swiss workers already make more than 4,000 francs ($4,538) per month. Supporters of the measure say the minimum wage will help elevate the country’s 330,000 mostly female low-wage workers who struggle to make ends meet in the high-priced country.

Despite what appears to be a minimal potential impact on the economy, the proposal has been getting plenty of pushback from economists, trade groups and businesses, including Nestlé S.A., a multinational food and beverage giant and one of Switzerland’s largest companies. Philippe Aeschlimann, corporate spokesman for Nestlé, said all of its Swiss employees are already paid above the minimum annual wage proposed in the initiative. However, he said the higher labor costs would negatively affect other companies in Nestlé’s supply chain.

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New Law Requires Swiss Banks to Report Customers Evading Tax: Interview with Bill Black

Switzerland backs quotas on migrants as referendum ‘receives approval by narrowest of margins’

From The Independent:

Relations between Switzerland and the rest of Europe have been plunged into confusion after the Swiss appeared to have voted in favour of a ceiling on foreign migrants – including citizens of the EU. Against all expectations, early counts suggested narrow approval of a referendum proposal to stop “mass migration” which will tear up agreements with the EU on free movement of people and goods. The proposal, tabled by the right-wing populist party the Democratic Union of Centre (UDC), had been fiercely condemned by Swiss business groups and opposed by the federal parliament, president and government.

The referendum result obliges Switzerland to impose unspecified, annual ceilings on all foreign migrants, including Britons and other EU citizens and daily cross-border commuters from France, Italy and Germany. Such limits would breach “open borders” treaties signed with Brussels which also allow Swiss goods to circulate freely within Europe and give Swiss business the right to bid for government contracts in the 28 EU countries.

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Swiss vote for sweet minimum monthly wage: $2,800

From RT:

Some 120,000 Swiss signatories have put their names to a petition demanding a monthly minimum wage of $2,800 (2,500 Swiss francs) for every single member of the working adult population. Enough names have been collected for a government vote.

Anything less than the proposed amount would be deemed illegal, even for people working in the lowest paid jobs. A typical fast-food worker in the US earns roughly $1,500 per month.

It could be one of the landmark historical moments, like the abolition of slavery, or the civil rights movement – of course, those who don’t want it will find excuses, but those who do want it will find solutions,” Enno Schmidt, founder of the Basic Income Initiative, told RT.

A date for the vote itself is yet to be confirmed, however, it could take place before the end of this year, depending on the decision of the Swiss government. The “1:12 initiative” has gained support across the government’s social democrat bloc.

To mark the day, a truck full of 8 million five-cent coins was deposited on the square and spread out in front of the Swiss Parliament in Bern on Saturday.

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Swiss war game envisages invasion by bankrupt French

A Swiss Army honor guard stands 22 March 2006 during a welcoming ceremony for Czech President Vaclav Klaus in Bern. From The Telegraph:

[…] Famous for its bank secrecy laws, Switzerland often comes under criticism for allowing foreign account holders to hide their wealth from tax officials at home.

But these opaque laws are coming under increasing fire as France and the US, among others, are cracking down on tax evasion during a period of economic hardship.

This is by no means the first imaginary scenario dreamed up by the Swiss army. Last year, it carried out an exercise based on the premise that a huge wave of refugees crossed into the country after the implosion of the European Single Currency and ensuing chaos across the continent.

“Stabilo Due” centered around a risk map created in 2010 and envisaged internal unrest between warring factions as well as the possibility of refugees from Greece, Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal.

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Nuclear waste discovered under lake in Switzerland ~ Press TV

Press TV

Scientists have found that a nuclear plant in Switzerland is responsible for the radioactive material found in a lake used to supply potable drinking water, a report says.

Geologists from Geneva University discovered that the Muehleberg nuclear plant in northwestern Switzerland is dumping contaminated wastewater into a tributary stream feeding into Lake Biel which supplies drinking water to nearby residents, the Le Matin Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday.

The nuclear plant has been dumping its contaminated wastewater into the Aar River since 2000, resulting in a sharp increase in cesium 137 levels which were found in the sediment under the lake, scientists added.

Experts said the radioactive levels posed no immediate known danger to human health.

FULL ARTICLE @ PRESS TV

Private Banks Leave Switzerland as End of Secrecy Hurts ~ Business Week

Private Banks Leave Switzerland as End of Secrecy Hurts Profitsby Aaron Kirchfeld and Elena Logutenkova
Business Week

For European lenders with private-banking aspirations, a presence in Switzerland used to be a must. Now, with bank secrecy eroding and rising compliance costs chipping away at profits, more are saying adieu.

The number of foreign-owned Swiss banks fell to 129 by the end of May from 145 at the start of 2012, according to data from the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland. Assets under management slid by a quarter to 870.7 billion Swiss francs ($921 billion) in the five years through 2012 as clients withdrew money or paid taxes on undeclared accounts, the data show.

A crackdown on bank secrecy and increased regulatory scrutiny may unlock a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the next 12 to 18 months, according to bankers, consultants and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. While Switzerland remains the biggest center for global offshore wealth with $2.2 trillion, or about 26 percent of the market, according to Boston Consulting Group, departures may further chip away at the Alpine republic’s status.

FULL ARTICLE @ BUSINESS WEEK