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Swiss MPs say UBS secrets deal must go to referendum

Les Etats-Unis réclament à UBS 52 000 noms d’Américains ayant caché 15 milliards de dollars en Suisse.
Les Etats-Unis réclament à UBS 52 000 noms d’Américains ayant caché 15 milliards de dollars en Suisse. Reuters

The lower house of Switzerland’s parliament has agreed to hand over information on the bank accounts of thousands of US citizens accused of tax evasion. But the MPs insisted that the decision must go to a referendum, which is unlikely to be held before the deadline set by a draft agreement with Washington.

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The agreement, which will give access to information on customers of the UBS bank, was signed in August 2009 and is supposed to come into effect by 19 August this year.

But in January a court ordered that parliament must ratify it.

The upper house backed the deal without demanding a referendum, so Tuesday’s decision puts the two chambers at loggerheads.

Now the agreement must go back to the upper house so that it can debate the referendum question, parliamentary officials say. If no agreement is reached, the matter must go to conciliation and, if that fails, it will be scrapped.

Agreement between the two houses must be reached before the end of the parliamentary session on Friday.

Nevertheless, Socialist MP Jean-Yves Gentils says that it is “a death sentence for Switzerland’s traditional bank secrecy”.

“It’s also a death sentence for some practices aimed at tax evasion in some countries, for example the US,” he told RFI.

“Certain rich bank customers have exploited banking secrecy so as to salt away money that they wanted to conceal from their countries’ tax authorities in Swiss safes. I don’t think this means a loss of credibility … it’s an improvement in the morality of Swiss banks and our country’s financial practices.”
 

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