Saturday, January 30, 2010

David Cay Johnston's Thoughts on Swiss Criminal Enablers

David Cay Johnston has an interesting column, titled Enabling Tax Thieves, in today’s Tax Notes Today. Johnston “is a former tax reporter for The New York Times. He teaches at Syracuse University College of Law and is the author of two books about taxes, Free Lunch and Perfectly Legal.”

Here are a few quotes to give readers the flavor of the column (my addition in brackets):

Recent developments are making it clear that rather than being a legitimate nation, Switzerland seems not that much different from a criminal enterprise -- a rogue state and a kleptocracy that is a threat to every honest taxpayer in the rest of the world. The Swiss government differs from the usual leader of a thieving gang in one respect: It is not ratting out its partners in crime.

Other than its techniques of enforcement, what makes the Swiss government any different from the mob -- Alabanian, Colombian, Israeli, Russian, Sicilian?

[After reviewing recent developments with his own usual spin on them]

The expectation was that UBS would disgorge names and behave like a civilized institution. It would give up the tax cheats it helped and stop soliciting cheats. Instead the Swiss government has run interference on behalf of UBS -- and arguably all Swiss banks.

* * * *

However, this agreement [between the U.S. and the Swiss] never anticipated that the Swiss would lack honor, that their word is unreliable. The reason for this shortcoming is obvious -- no one at the DOJ believed that they were dealing with a rogue government.

* * * *

The American government should begin shutting down Swiss access to the American economy. The first step would be to announce that a grand jury is being impaneled to indict UBS and every officer and employee suspected of involvement in the cheating.

* * * *

And there is a symbolic gesture that President Obama could make that would probably be just as effective in scaring the Swiss into being honest: Pardon Bradley Charles Birkenfeld, who blew the whistle but is now serving 40 months because he was not entirely candid with the DOJ.

The point of pardoning Birkenfeld would be entirely practical. It would send a signal that in the interests of justice, the American government will overlook conduct by those who bring in major tax criminals and their enablers.

* * * *

The American government has long taken action against rogue states that threaten its interests -- from a nearly half-century economic embargo against Cuba to overthrowing regimes that harbor threats physical and financial to seizing Iranian assets.

The U.S. government deals with extraordinary harshness when the working poor, especially single mothers, make errors on their tax returns. Congress has given the IRS authority to deny the earned income tax credit for 10 years, more than half of a child's formative years.

Why do we treat the Swiss differently? Why do we show any tolerance to calculated crimes facilitated by greedy Swiss bankers?

So here is the question I ask my readers. What is the difference between the Swiss bankers and the Somali pirates?


  1. Better chocolate?

  2. The US should clean up its own act before telling the world off. I am talking about al the undeclared Latin monies in Miami (huge business); as well as the lax money laundinging regulations allowing the flow of illicit money (through delaware Corporations). Please USA, start pointing fingers at yourselves too. The world knows whats going on in Miami.


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