Switzerland: Lawless Zone?

Today’s big Swiss story is on the Polanski (non-)extradition. This recent article on Swiss banking helps situate Swiss non-cooperation with authorities in a larger context:

The anonymous emails carried a tantalizing subject line: “Tax evasion: client list available.” The messages, sent two years ago to tax authorities across Europe, made an audacious claim: The sender could provide a large client list of a Swiss-based private bank, plus access to its computer systems. . . .

Switzerland strenuously objects to foreign authorities using [this] data to pursue tax dodgers and has warned it won’t cooperate with any investigation stemming from what it regards as stolen data. . . .

France has said it would use the data to pursue tax cheats. “We obtained those data in a legal manner,” then-budget minister Eric Woerth said in February. “France isn’t on the line for fraud, tax evaders are.” In a twist, it is the French government that is now making the data available, promising to hand it over to other governments in pursuit of tax cheats.

While many have claimed that “privacy is dead,” Switzerland strenuously tries to protect it for many of the worst tax cheats. Such actions not only exacerbate global inequality, they also create an environment that aids the formation of some of the biggest crime and terror networks in the world. If financial secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens grow, we should expect the same “total information awareness” network advanced by homeland security experts applied to the transactions of anyone who does business in them.

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