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Cooperation in Criminal Matters

In recent years, there has been a shift in the absolute secrecy policy in response to international pressures from the U.S. and other countries. In cases which involve requests for information from foreign governments concerning a serious criminal offense, the Swiss may cooperate in supplying the requested bank records. The foreign government must first show that a particular individual committed one of the enumerated crimes, which is also an offense in Switzerland. It must then present evidence that the individual has used an identified bank for transactions, which are associated with the crime. If the proof is determined to be satisfactory, the bank will be required to turn over records regarding the specific transactions involved. Account records not related to the transactions will not be disclosed.

Consistent with this new spirit of responsiveness but much to everyone’s surprise the Swiss Government froze the accounts of exiled Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and deposed Haiti ruler François “Papa Doc” Duvalier when the new governments began an effort to retrieve looted funds, which had been stashed in Switzerland. The official policy of the Swiss banks is now to refuse deposits from political leaders when the source of the funds appears to have been illegal or corrupt practices.

This increased cooperation regarding criminal matters has not been extended to civil cases. Disclosure of account information is still prohibited in all civil matters including divorce, lawsuits, and creditor claims. Swiss law also does not permit the disclosure of bank information to foreign tax authorities, including the Internal Revenue Service. Tax evasion is not a criminal offense in Switzerland and is not subject to the exclusion from secrecy of the specified crimes.

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