After describing the U.S. initiative against offshore banks and the hoped for change in Swiss attitudes on enabling tax evasion, the article continues:
But the impression of change is misleading, regulators and members of the insular banking fraternity here say. The reality, they say, remains closer to business as usual.
Even as the Swiss authorities have nodded at cooperation with frustrated governments abroad, at home laws on the books since 1934 make violating client confidentiality a crime and require bankers to guard secrecy like priests or lawyers. Bankers who cooperate with foreign officials and violate their “duty of absolute silence,” as it is known here, potentially face home raids, prison, fines for secrecy violations and industrial espionage, and the ostracism of colleagues and friends.
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*** [B]ankers — caught in a vise of competing legal forces — are damned if they help either side. In the meantime, those being pressured to reveal their secrets or those of their clients to American and other foreign authorities investigating tax evasion and other crimes are maintaining their code of silence. For those bankers whose roles have brought legal charges abroad or the threat of them, that means avoiding extradition by staying within Switzerland, living life in legal and personal limbo.
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The situation is particularly galling to bankers — most at the midlevel — who say they are being pressured to take the fall for more powerful superiors in an industry that still jealously guards itself by closing its ranks.
Describing a life of secretive techniques worthy of James Bond (who quipped in a 1999 film, “If you can’t trust a Swiss banker, then what’s the world come to?”), bankers who were interviewed said that one of the practices under most intensive criminal investigation — the clandestine recruitment of clients in the United States — was not only known to their bosses, but was also part of a business model.
The bankers roamed the West and East Coasts of the United States with company instructions to recruit rich clients on a luxury circuit of five-star hotels, art exhibitions and tennis matches. Their bonuses, they said, depended on the business they cultivated and protected.After describing anecdotes of how the bankers operated, the article continues:
While such tales might seem to come from the heyday of Swiss banking, the culture continues, bankers, regulators and other experts say.
“Strictly nothing has fundamentally changed,” said Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and author. “The big issue in these banks is that violating secrecy is considered treachery.”
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Now employees are bracing as 100 or more Swiss banks are expected to turn over more than 1,000 names and information to the United States, according to the Swiss Bank Employees Association, a trade group. The Justice Department said those names would be used to investigate Americans who evaded taxes along with the banks, bankers and advisers.
“We are going to look very carefully that employees don’t have to pay for the strategies of their bosses,” said Denise Chervet, a spokeswoman for the association. “It’s unbelievable now that some of the top executives claim they didn’t know.”