It is getting tougher to find places to stash illicit money. The centuries-old Swiss banking tradition of protecting the identities of its clients has been broken, and Lichtenstein, one of Europe's three tax havens, has agreed to hand over information about its clients to the British government.
The Swiss government and UBS agreed to hand over to U.S. authorities the identities of American clients suspected by Washington of tax evasion, AP recently reported. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service had been leaning on UBS to hand over information about 52,000 U.S. citizens suspected of hiding some $15 billion in assets in UBS accounts. But the Swiss government had so far rejected the demands, saying it was against Swiss law to provide information about bank clients to outsiders.
The U.S. Justice Department said the two sides reached basic agreement, with the only thing left to sign on the dotted line. The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreement would lead to the transfer to the IRS of information about some 8,000 to 10,000 clients, while the Financial Times said at least 5,000 names would be turned over to the U.S.
Considering the size of the list and the amount of money involved, the agreement could deal a heavy blow to Swiss banks, which have operated by sticking to their code of secrecy no matter who the client was and whether the deposited funds were legal or not.
Bank transactions account for 8.5 percent of Switzerland's gross domestic product, and Swiss banks manage around $2 trillion worth of money invested by foreigners.