Switzerland rejects divisive deal to expose U.S. tax dodgers

AFP-JIJI

Swiss lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a deal from Washington to halt ruinous U.S. legal action, provided that Swiss banks that have helped stash cash also expose American tax dodgers and pay hefty fines.

The Alpine country’s lower house shot down the controversial Lex USA accord, which would have temporarily lifted Switzerland’s long-sacrosanct banking secrecy and allow banks to settle with U.S. authorities and draw a line under past wrongdoing.

A total of 123 members voted against the deal, which Washington insisted was nonnegotiable and had to be put into force by July 1, with no details to be revealed beforehand. Sixty-three were in favor and four abstained.

Opponents from across the spectrum lined up to blast the deal. “We must not cave in to pressure from other countries,” said Christoph Blocher, a leader of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, the country’s largest political force. “We must avoid creating a precedent, because other countries would want to follow the U.S. lead. It would be the end of Switzerland.”

He told the chamber it was up to the banks to find a solution.

Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer of the Socialists described the accord as a “blank check.”

“The banks know exactly why we’re in this situation and who’s to blame. They violated another country’s law and should face the consequences,” she added.

The vote came a day after G-8 leaders agreed to chase tax cheats and crack down on corporate schemes to reduce tax bills, and just hours after Switzerland’s upper house approved the deal.

Under Swiss law, the lower house has the final word.