Swiss parliament halts US tax deal following CIA espionage claims
June 19, 2013 4 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lower house of the Swiss parliament has voted to stop considering a legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee revealed an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. The legislation, which was drafted by the government of Switzerland, is aimed at addressing demands by Washington for Swiss banks to turn over to US authorities the identities of American tax dodgers. It is believed that tens of thousands of wealthy Americans manage to evade their tax obligations each year by exploiting strict Swiss banking privacy laws, which effectively shield them from US internal revenue authorities. The legislation has already been approved by the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly (the Council of States), but it needs to be cleared by the lower house (the National Council) before it can be officially enacted. Interestingly, the legislation was halted in the lower house just days after American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a US espionage operation aimed at recruiting a Swiss bank official. Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). In addition to PRISM, Snowden, 29, spoke about a CIA operation in 2007, when he was allegedly stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. He told British newspaper The Guardian that the CIA successfully recruited a Swiss bank official “by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving”, said Snowden, the CIA “undercover [officer] seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to his successful recruitment”. Snowden’s revelation enraged Swiss politicians. Dick Marty, a former Swiss parliamentarian and prosecutor complained on Switzerland’s public radio that “for too long Switzerland has tolerated CIA agents [sic] doing more or less whatever they want on our territory”. Local observers noted at the time that Snowden’s revelations “could not come at a worse time for the Swiss government, trying to convince parliament to back its emergency plan that would allow Swiss banks to turn over data on tax evaders to the US government”. It turns out they were right; Snowden’s disclosures may not have been the primary force behind the stalling of the legislation, but they surely could not have helped. The bill will now be referred back to the upper house, and it seems almost impossible that it could be enacted before the Federal Assembly terminates its summer session this week. Switzerland’s Economic Affairs Minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, assured observers on Tuesday that “everybody, from left to right, from the government to parliament, is making efforts and we will find a solution”. He added that it was “important to convey this message to the United States”.