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August 10, 2009 - Phil Hodgen

Swiss government thinking about the UBS settlement

The Swiss government is thinking about the proposed settlement in the UBS litigation.  (The settlement would have UBS disclose some names, but not the names of all of its 52,000-ish U.S. customers.  Convenient fig leaf for UBS and IRS.)

Reuters reports on Swiss cabinet meetings on this point.  From the article, we can see a hint of what is holding up the settlement:

Swiss media have said U.S.-Swiss talks have stalled on legal details on how to allow the transfer of some client data to Washington while respecting strict Swiss banking secrecy laws.

“It is not a problem that has to do with UBS, but rather with the legal procedure,” Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz told Swiss television on Sunday, without going into details.

LENGTHY COURT APPEALS

According to Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, the U.S. wants guarantees that the so-called administrative assistance process, the legal framework under which bank client details can be transferred to the United States, will deliver the data, and quickly.

But Merz said on Sunday Switzerland was not prepared to introduce emergency measures to force the pace of the process.

Any transmission of such data from Switzerland to the U.S. would normally involves potentially lengthy court appeals, and the U.S. Justice Department is believed to be looking for ways to cut down on such delays.

Originally scheduled for July 13, the case against UBS is now set for court on August 17, but if the parties choose to delay further, the next available date would be September 21.

Berne already stretched its legal system in February when it forced UBS to quickly hand over 250 client names, bypassing the clients’ appeals, in order to settle criminal charges against the bank.

Read between the lines and you get the following:

  • The decision to divulge names has already been made; and
  • It is in UBS’s benefit to divulge names of its customers; but
  • The only problem is how to square the circle justify the change in interpretation of Swiss bank secrecy laws so UBS can blurt out stuff that it couldn’t blurt out before; so
  • UBS wants the Swiss government to hand out a fig leaf that it (UBS) can hide behind; and
  • The Swiss government is saying, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking” much like the Jack Benny joke.

OK, class.  Here is today’s lesson.  Bankers cannot and will not follow through on their assurance of secrecy, and governments will be weasels whenever expedient for a politician’s career. You, the human, will get thrown under the bus.   All in the name of diplomatic relations and this quarter’s earnings per share.  Take control of your own life.

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