Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer’s fight for tax justice and transparency has been lauded by Matt Carthy during a fact-finding mission to Switzerland by MEPs last Friday – the top-rank country in Tax Justice Network’s most recent Financial Secrecy Index.
Elmer, who has endured harassment and imprisonment by the Swiss authorities over many years, avoided jail last year after he was acquitted of breaking banking secrecy laws – which is a criminal offence in Switzerland.
The meeting with Elmer came as a delegation of MEPs from the Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion assessed the current state of play regarding tax avoidance and money-laundering in Switzerland, and what the country’s authorities have been doing to improve banking transparency.
Commenting on the visit and on meeting Elmer, the Irish MEP said:
“It was an honour to meet Rudolf Elmer, who has been fighting a 12-year legal battle against the Swiss state. Despite being found not guilty last year of breaching Swiss bank secrecy laws, this whistleblower has been harassed for more than a decade, fined more than 300,000 euros and denied compensation for having to spend more than 200 days in solitary confinement.”
As for the fight for tax justice and greater transparency in the country, Carthy said a lot more still needs to be done:
“Switzerland has made some positive steps forward in terms of adopting certain international standards on exchanging tax and bank account information. But financial secrecy continues – and it is not a victimless crime.”
“Last year, the UN criticised Switzerland after it received a submission from a number of development NGOs outlining how Swiss policies of financial secrecy directly and negatively impacted on women’s rights, for example,” he said.
Carthy also blamed the country’s right-wing administration for refusing to expand the automatic exchange of banking information with and to see what impact financial secrecy has on dozens of developing countries.
However, the ambiguous role played by lawyers must also be scrutinised by the Swiss authorities in cracking down on money-laundering and financial crimes:
“While in the past it was Swiss banks that were the most the active in setting up shell companies for tax evasion, 90% of the structures set up by Swiss agents revealed in the Panama Papers were the product of lawyers.”
“The Swiss authorities need to act to close these loopholes for promoters of tax evasion schemes and end this excessive secrecy that has made their state a centre of money-laundering and financial crime,” Carthy concluded.