Broward News

Can We Add Switzerland to "Axis of Evil"?

For all the hand-wringing over the North Koreas and Irans of the world, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single nation whose diabolical deeds have done more to undermine the U.S.'s global standing than the world's peace-loving champions of neutrality. The case against UBS in Fort Lauderdale's federal court has revealed a dark side of Switzerland.

The national bank has been exposed for its past efforts to help rich Americans cheat the IRS out of an estimated $20 billion -- a sum that makes the $780 million settlement UBS paid in February look like a steal. Literally.

Granted, the bank and its accomplices in Swiss government appear to be motivated purely by greed, even if their actions had major political consequences. And it's most definitely a political matter now, as the U.S. Justice Department is demanding that the Swiss government force its bank to reveal the names of some 52,000 Americans suspected of cheating the tax collector with the bank's help.

And what did that help look like in practice? Like a crappy spy movie, judging by the filings in Fort Lauderdale against upstate New Yorker Jeffrey P. Chernick.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Chernick's private banker and a Swiss lawyer would dress as tourists when meeting Mr. Chernick at New York hotels, with the executive lying to customs officials by saying he was there to visit his brother. They mailed, rather than hand-carried, Mr. Chernick's bank statements, for fear that customs officials would seize hard copies. They also cut out Mr. Chernick's name and address from printed statements. Mr. Chernick gained access to his money in part through a credit card linked to his UBS and other Swiss accounts.
So now that the Swiss bank has been cold-busted, what's the hold-up in getting those 52,000 names?  From the AP:
UBS and the Swiss government say such a disclosure would violate centuries-old Swiss bank secrecy laws and expose the bank to criminal charges.
An argument that should get them laughed out of any courtroom in the world. It also shows that the Swiss government is collaborating with its crooked bankers now and suggests that it's been complicit in these spy games for some time.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Swiss officials tomorrow, the same day that is a deadline for reaching a settlement in a related case in Miami.

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Thomas Francis