Opened Up

GENEVA, February 7, 2010 (AFP) – After relentless international pressure on Swiss banking secrecy, history came full circle last week when Germany decided to use stolen bank data to corner taxpayers with money hidden in Switzerland. Weary Swiss bankers tried to contain another onslaught that shook the remnants of the lucrative wall of secrecy they have been struggling to maintain against Europe and the United States.

However, their minds were increasingly set on growing business with Asia and emerging markets.

“Banking secrecy is being called into question,” admitted the secretary general of the Swiss Private Bankers Association, Michel Derobert.

“It is important for past clientele, and it’s losing its importance for the clients of the future,” he said.

Swiss banks were legally sworn to secrecy over their clients’ affairs in 1934, as a wave of espionage by Germany’s then Nazi regime against Germans — including Jews and political opponents — with deposits in Switzerland added to other tensions of the era.

Although nobody in Switzerland is making comparisons with 1930s Europe, an anonymous whistleblower’s recent offer to German authorities — thought to be the third leak in two years — annoyed the banking e