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Forms of Swiss Ownership

Swiss accounts are often held in the name of a corporation. The corporation can be formed in any part of the world and need not be a Swiss company. For example, it is not uncommon to form a corporation in the British Virgin Islands and to open an account for the company at a Swiss bank. These corporations may have bearer shares, which protect the true identity of the owner. We will discuss the uses of these types of corporations later.

Opening the Swiss account in the name of a trust is also an attractive option. Although Switzerland does not have its own laws for creating Asset Protection Trusts, an APT formed elsewhere can hold the account. A common approach is to form the trust under the laws of the Cook Islands with a Cook Islands trustee. The trust account is then opened in Switzerland to take advantage of the superior banking facilities.

Switzerland has joined in the cooperative spirit to discourage the use of secret accounts by those engaged in illegal activities. All Swiss banks are required to know the identity of their customers and the beneficial owner of an account. All account opening documentation must be accompanied by a Form A, which states the true name of the beneficial owner. This record is then maintained in a protected fashion with access restricted to the appropriate bank personnel.

Under limited circumstances, the disclosure of the beneficial owner required under Form A can be avoided. Under Swiss law, a Swiss attorney is permitted to open an account on behalf of an unnamed client. A declaration must be made on Form B that the disclosure would have serious legal ramifications for the client.

As we discuss the various structures involving companies and trusts which can be used to hold these accounts, we will see that the disclosure of the beneficial account owner on Form A or its equivalent actually increases the customer’s protection by eliminating the issue of who is entitled to the funds.

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