The lower house of the Swiss parliament voted 123–63 against debating a bill that would have created a legal basis for Swiss banks to resolve tax evasion disputes with the United States. The vote effectively kills the measure and opens up Swiss banks to possible prosecution by US authorities if they do not divulge information about accounts holders.
The Federal Act on Measures to Facilitate the Resolution of the Tax Dispute Between Swiss Banks and the United States was approved twice by the upper house of the Swiss Parliament, on June 12 and June 19, but was voted down by the lower house on June 18 and then again on June 19. Having been voted down twice by the lower house, it is now finally rejected.
The bill would have allowed Swiss banks to avoid banking secrecy laws and give the United States data about their clients, although they would not have been allowed to divulge their clients’ names. The data included information on business relationships and bank employees who have worked with US clients. When it first announced the bill, the Swiss government said it was designed to forestall “further criminal investigations or charges concerning banking institutions.”
Swiss banks are now faced with the prospect of either releasing information to the United States in violation of Swiss banking secrecy laws or withholding that information and facing prosecution by the US Department of Justice. The Swiss Bankers Association expressed regret that the bill had been rejected, saying the bill would have created “legal certainty so that the banks in Switzerland can make use of the US’ programme in order to draw a line under the past.”
—Alistair Nevius (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor-in-chief, tax for CGMA Magazine.