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IRS Deal Pierces Veil of Swiss Banking Secrecy

A New York Times reporter assesses the impact of Swiss banking giant UBS agreeing to give the U.S. Internal Revenue Service names of some account holders.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, a major settlement with a Swiss bank and that connection with tax evasion overseas. Gwen Ifill has our story.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Swiss banking has long been associated with secrecy, but a new settlement between the IRS and Swiss banking giant UBS may be opening that door. The IRS said today that UBS has agreed to turn over the names of more than 4,400 Americans tied to accounts held at the bank.

    Lynnley Browning has been covering the story for the New York Times, and she joins me now.

    Welcome, Lynnley.

  • LYNNLEY BROWNING:

    Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We have always heard about this mysterious, secret Swiss bank accounts. Why no longer secret?

  • LYNNLEY BROWNING:

    Well, I wouldn’t say that they’re no longer secret. I would say that the veil of Swiss banking secrecy has been pierced, but not lifted. The IRS and the Justice Department have ramped up their investigations of off-shore tax evasion in recent years, and it led them to UBS.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Will we ever — or do we know the names of the people who are holding these accounts, these accountholders’ names, 4,400 names?

  • LYNNLEY BROWNING:

    The only concrete identities we have are for the four individuals who in recent months have pleaded guilty to tax evasion and who, of course, were UBS clients. Will we ultimately know the names of these 4,000-plus individuals? Probably not, unless charges are brought against them and made public.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How much money are we talking about stashed away, Lynnley?

  • LYNNLEY BROWNING:

    Well, for the 4,450 American clients of UBS who will have their names and identities and account details turned over, the IRS commissioner estimated today that those accounts at their peak held $18 billion. That’s, obviously, a fraction of the whole universe of assets stashed off-shore.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, is it — I know there was a time when there was, I guess, an amnesty offer to people who had been holding these bank accounts, to voluntarily disclose whether they actually have these funds there. Is that over now?

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