Credit Suisse in quixotic quest for German tax accountability

Credit Suisse in quixotic quest for German tax accountability
Credit Suisse, along with UBS and Julius Baer, have offered German clients an ultimatum: either provide evidence funds have been taxed or close their accounts.

Credit Suisse spokesman Marc Dosch told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the bank is cracking down on tax evaders, and all account holders will need to provide documents proving account funds have been taxed.

“We’re advising German customers to check their personal situation and if necessary to clean it up,” Dosch told Bloomberg.

“If that doesn’t happen we will have to terminate the client relationship at some point,” said Dosch.

The policy applies to all German clients, who are being asked to ‘clean up’ their accounts.

The move by Credit Suisse relates to the German parliament’s decision in December to reject a tax treaty between Germany and Switzerland, which would have retroactively taxed all the money Germans held in Swiss bank accounts ($12.9 billion), at a rate between 21-41%, and then starting in 2013, their accounts would be taxed at German rates. Under this condition, German tax evaders would remain anonymous. The bill was expected to pass, but was blocked by Germany’s upper chamber, saying the agreement didn’t go ‘far enough’, Spiegel reports.

After the legislation was blocked, Swiss banks began to watch German clients' accounts much more meticiulously.

UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank by assets, is also asking German clients to tidy up their accounts, a spokesperson confirmed on Sunday.

“We support clients in regularizing their assets,” Christoph Meier, a Zurich-based spokesman told Bloomberg.

Julius Baer is following suit. “We are encouraging our [German] clients to carefully assess their fiscal duties and advising them to seek professional advice,” Jan Vonder Muehll, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Switzerland is an attractive destination for offshore wealth and is trying to jettison its image as an offshore haven of illicit wealth, largely in reaction to a crackdown by US and European governments.

Swiss officials began to retreat from absolute banking secrecy in 2008, after OECD countries threatened to put Switzerland on an offshore 'black list'.

Tax evasion has become an increasingly hot political topic worldwide, and last week the issue blew up on when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked offshore account information from the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, and other ‘havens’, even releasing identities.

Governments are now cracking down, or at least launching a public campaign that depicts a crack down, on offshore tax-evasion.

The European Commission, along with the G20, have made it their goal to oust secret banking regimes, but Austria and Luxembourg haven’t officially signed on. The two countries are now under pressure from the EU commission to make foreign depositor information available and transparent.