Thursday, 9 July 2009

Racking And Rolling The Swiss

Whilst all this grim and stupid nonsense has been going on in the UK media, there is much bigger and more important business out there, and not only in the wastes of Afghanistan. The USA is still running a real financial crisis and now needs to look for money fast; especially what it thinks is its own money. How long will it be now before the USA Marine Corps are marching along the Ramistrasse in Zurich, singing as they go a variant on their old marching song?

“From the streets of Old Manhattan to the banks of the Zurichsee,
We have demanded all our tax returns, for the dollar currency.”

It seems that the President is after tax information, spurred on by the increasing deficit in the fiscal situation, and his main target is the Swiss UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) which has been advising many of the high wealth Americans of ways and means of paying little or no tax. The key is what arrangements are made and what devices have been employed, and more to the point how do they avoid or evade US tax laws.

For this the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants the essential information, but citing Swiss Banking Law, the UBS is unwilling to divulge the names of its clients, let alone the details of their financial situation. The Financial Crimes web site, at the has been commenting on this, and it could be getting ugly. One issue is if the USA will confiscate the UBS operations stateside. That would really throw the fondue in the fan.

What is interesting is why the USA is going after the Big One at an early stage, and not one of the many smaller entities closer to home. There are enough dotted about in the Caribbean area, and elsewhere for them to lean on. The trouble there is that it would mean taking on the UK. Clearly the Crunch situation means that they will have to take care in the Pacific area, so it may be if they can force the Swiss to back down, the US will then begin to roll up the rest, and then leave just a few awkward cases to be dealt with in detail. It would also give the USA a moral victory over Europe, in that much of the Swiss operations are linked to others just across their borders.

In the meantime the UK government have had to come up with a scheme for new regulation, and whiles brave words are being spoken, the reality is the usual rare muddle of political fixing married to the desire not to offend the bankers too much, only just enough to persuade some voters that the proposals are for real. The truth is that the proposals are a mess, and will create a worse mess. They ought to be worried, because if I was in Washington DC, after Zurich, my next major target would he the City of London, scene of some of the most rampant and unprincipled malpractice in the financial world, aided and abetted by the Treasury, the Bank of England, the regulators, and the media.

Personally, I have some affection for Switzerland. Back in 1951 on my first visit during a time of rationing, uncertainty, and shortages in Britain, I saw a world where it could be clean, food was to be had, and you could just go into a shop and find something to buy that wasn’t shoddy or cost the earth. Moreover the efficiency of the railway was astonishing, and electric. Back in the UK the newly nationalised British Railways were throwing the investment budget on bigger steam engines for selected prestige main lines and to hell with the rest of the system.

In fact my favourite TV programme is Swiss Railway Journeys on Sky TV Travel, a lovely world where things work, it is all localised, devolution is real, and is spoiled only by a few banks that have picked up nasty habits from other countries. If the Swiss government really wants to face up to America then it should ask its banks to hand over all the information, and copy it to the international media. The fall out from this would be spectacular.

Then we could all sit back and watch the fun.

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