As a US hunt for tax evaders and their accomplices gains momentum, many Swiss bankers are afraid to go abroad for fear of arrest, one business leader said in an interview published on Sunday.
“In my opinion, some 1,000 Swiss bankers no longer dare to go to the United States, or even travel abroad,” Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce head Martin Naville was quoted as saying by Le Matin Dimanche weekly.
Swiss banks and industry representatives are increasingly cautioning bankers who have worked with US clients to refrain from traveling outside Switzerland, the paper reported.
Swiss banks are believed to have accepted tens of billions of undeclared US dollars from citizens of the US — although they now refuse such money — and a number of banks are being investigated by Washington.
The US has not made public which individual bankers it is probing, but according to Le Matin Dimanche, about 30 names are on the list.
Recently however, “the United States has proven it can strike where and when it likes, and now with the help of European countries,” the paper wrote, describing widespread paranoia throughout the banking industry.
The report comes just longer than a week after the arrest in Italy of a former high-ranking UBS AG executive alleged to have helped US customers conceal their assets.
Raoul Weil, the 54-year-old ex-chairman of UBS’s global wealth management service, was indicted by a US federal grand jury in 2008 for his alleged role in overseeing the US cross-border business.
The indictment alleges that Weil and co-conspirators helped US customers hide about US$20 billion in assets from tax authorities.
The Swiss national, who left UBS after the 2008 indictment, has always denied the charges and is reportedly fighting his extradition from Italy to the US.
The Swiss Bank Employees Association told Le Matin Dimanche that it was advising all bankers who have regularly visited clients in the US “to abstain from traveling.”
Some Geneva banks are urging employees living on the French side of the border to settle in Switzerland instead to avoid problems, one banker who wished to remain anonymous told the paper.
“I don’t even dare leave Zurich anymore,” said another unnamed banker, who recently found out his name had been handed to US authorities.