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Wikileaks To Name Swiss Bank Tax Evaders 783

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the oh-this-will-work-out-fine dept.
eldavojohn writes "The old cliche that the rich and corrupt hold all their money in Swiss bank accounts (to avoid taxation) may finally have a bit of transparency, as the news today is that Wikileaks has been handed a list of account holders tendered by Rudolf Elmer, former banker of Julius Baer. Julian Assange promises a 'full revelation' while Elmer cited his motivation as being: 'I want to let society know how this system works. It's damaging society.' This appears to be real, as Mr. Elmer is soon to appear before a Zurich regional court on charges of coercion as well as violations of Switzerland's strict banking secrecy laws. The public may soon find out that their favorite celebrity, politician or employer doesn't feel responsible to contribute financially to the commonwealth at the expense of privacy."
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Wikileaks To Name Swiss Bank Tax Evaders

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  • Better article (Score:5, Informative)

    by AaxelB (1034884) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:06PM (#34904902)
    There are more details here. [nytimes.com]

    Personally, I'm just gonna sit back and watch this unfold *grabs popcorn*
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:21PM (#34905090) Journal

    I don't recall hearing Wikileaks making this announcement at all though - it sounds like someone handed over some big leaks than immediately turned the corner to the local news outlet and said "GUESS WHAT I JUST HANDED TO WIKILEAKS".

    This news report is by some other news agency, not Wikileaks.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:22PM (#34905100) Homepage

    I do not understand why wikileaks is telling everyone what they will reveal later. Can't they just post it immediately ?

    Better media management. It's easy for something even as large as the US diplomatic cable leak to get swept under the rug of the incessant 24 hour news cycle. By letting it out in bits and pieces he keeps the media interested and talking about Assange and Wikileaks. He is also going for brownie points by establishing relationships with more mainline media outlets. Those take time. TFA also mentions that Wikipedia is trying to evaluate the provenance of the disks, although it's not clear how they plan on doing that.

    Rather a dangerous game he's playing. He seems to enjoy it - likely feeds his apparently large ego. I would wonder, though, just how long he can keep this sort of thing up. I don't see an heir apparent in Wikileaks, but there are other sites that are trying to duplicate their efforts.

    As long as there are people with source material who are willing to give it to essentially total strangers we may see this as the new big thing. Information wants to be freed....

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:22PM (#34905108)

    I guess Assange didn't like that the swiss bank PostFinance closed his account.

    Actually, wikileaks has long disclosed a lot of information about Julius Baer bank, starting a few years back.

    Assange opened the PostFinance account under false pretenses, they were entitled to close it. PostFinance isn't a "normal" Swiss bank, it's owned & run by the post office.

    PostFinance isn't what you use when you're trying to evade taxation by hiding cash, you would use one of the privately owned Swiss banks.

  • Re:poor title (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrDoh! (71235) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:28PM (#34905188) Homepage Journal

    They don't report amounts, but they DO now report that you DO have an account with them now.
    If you hold money abroad, and file a US tax return, you have to submit your holdings. You could get away with it (probably) before as the banks wouldn't say a word.
    Now the government knows you've got /something/ elsewhere...

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:5, Informative)

    by krou (1027572) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:30PM (#34905224)
    Actually, it's more interesting than that. Julius Baer, the bank Elmer worked at, is the same bank that, in 2008, tried to take down the Wikileaks domain. From here [guardian.co.uk]:

    Assange is now talking: he is explaining how Julius Baer, Elmer's former bank, tried to use a US court in 2008 to take down the WikiLeaks.org domain. He said it was then WikiLeaks realised that the techniques it had developed to deal with Chinese censorship would be needed for operating in western countries too.

    The bank lost their injunction on first ammendment (freedom of speech) grounds with WikiLeaks supported in the case by US campaigners and media organisations, Assange tells the conference. He compares this to what he calls the "McCarthyist" state of play today.

    Karma's a bitch ...

  • Despite their exotic reputation, the vast majority of accounts were held by fairly ordinary folk (there seemed to be an inordinate number of german dentists). So while this may sound like a blow at the rich and powerful, there's going to be a lot of very unextraordinary middle class folk whose financial details are laid bare by this. Having a Swiss bank account is not illegal in itself.

    From the New York Times coverage [nytimes.com]:

    A former Swiss bank executive said on Monday that he had given the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other possible criminal activity.

    Emphasis mine. Elmer is doing this because he feels the list he has compiled is a list of unjust individuals and right now Wikileaks is doing all in their power to verify that these individuals are, in fact, tax dodgers. He says the list has 40 politicians and “pillars of society” worldwide among those two thousand.

    You might want consider whether you'd like your finances laid bare before you acclaim this as another win for david over goliath.

    Precisely why I ended the summary with "at the expense of privacy." And it's not just tax evasion. You do realize that if Julius Baer is associated with heinous criminals worldwide that it could get ugly on an international level, right?

  • by Solandri (704621) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:59PM (#34905632)

    While I am all for businesses making a profit, I am NOT all for a multi-billion dollar company paying effectively 2.4% while I continue to pay nearly 30% of my income.

    The inequitable taxation also unfairly hits small businesses. They're unable to offshore their finances, and they end up bearing the brunt of the public's anger at multi-billion dollar companies evading taxes. Consequently in the U.S., small businesses pay some of the highest tax rates among OECD nations. The business taxes passed to assuage people upset at big corporations evading taxes, are instead helping big corporations by crippling the small businesses who could otherwise challenge their domination.

    After a lot of thought, I actually reached the opposite conclusion as you. One of the core objections leading to the U.S. Revolutionary war was "No taxation without representation." That's a principle I think most people would still agree makes sense. And since I believe corporations should have no influence on government, I can't simultaneously justify to myself wanting to tax them.

    The argument "Well, that gets turned into research and good pay for employees" still doesn't float IMO, when you have the higher executives of Google being paid millions. Reduce the salaries of those PHBs down to something reasonable, pay the rank and file programmers and researchers that money, and pay taxes like everyone else.

    Sure it floats. All you have to do is raise the tax rate on the folks paid millions. I don't think this problem is as large as most people think it is though. If you pour over the IRS tax statistics [irs.gov], you'll find that the vast bulk of the income base (in the U.S. at least) is the upper-middle class and lower-upper class, roughly $75k-$250k/yr. What they lack in income, they make up for in population.

    The area where it gets tricky is perks paid for by the business but which the individual doesn't report as an income-equivalent benefit. e.g. a CEO flies around in a corporate jet, but doesn't report the added expense of operating the private plane over a coach ticket as a taxable benefit.

  • by krou (1027572) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:00PM (#34905666)
    Indeed. The UK Observer had more info direct from Elmer [guardian.co.uk]:

    'What I am objecting to is not one particular bank, but a system of structures. I have worked for major banks other than Julius Baer, and the one thing on which I am absolutely clear is that the banks know, and the big boys know, that money is being secreted away for tax-evasion purposes, and other things such as money-laundering – although these cases involve tax evasion. I agree with privacy in banking for the person in the street, and legitimate activity, but in these instances privacy is being abused so that big people can get big banking organisations to service them. The normal, hard-working taxpayer is being abused also. Once you become part of senior management, and gain international experience, as I did, then you are part of the inner circle – and things become much clearer. You are part of the plot. You know what the real products and service are, and why they are so expensive. It should be no surprise that the main product is secrecy ... Crimes are committed and lies spread in order to protect this secrecy.'

  • by BradleyUffner (103496) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:05PM (#34905732) Homepage

    What does having a bank account have to do with taxes? Taxes are supposed to be about the money you earn, not the money you have. Funny how this is turning out.

    Did you earn a large amount of money that you don't want to pay taxes on? Hide that income in a Swiss account. US banks report that information to the IRS, Swiss banks do not. This allows you to hide income from the IRS and not pay taxes on it.

  • by ledow (319597) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:06PM (#34905756) Homepage

    Interest is money that's taxed.
    Income earned in other countries may not be adequately taxed (or declared as taxed in your home country) and then never actually get taxed because it doesn't enter that country. A bank account will tell you *exactly* how much that person earned worldwide and who needs to tax it. Most Swiss banks will NEVER tell the countries involved that they suspect untaxed money is sitting in their accounts - go abroad, earn £10m, stick it in a Swiss account, come home, claim benefits.

    There are a million and one ways to launder money, and to avoid taxation, and most of them involve off-shore accounts like these.

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:3, Informative)

    by Beezlebub33 (1220368) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:19PM (#34905928)

    While I agree with you, you know these people probably still pay far more taxes than I do and are certainly covering their services. These people have to subsidize the 50% of the population that legally doesn't pay taxes.

    Your numbers are off, for two reasons: 1. Not paying income tax is not the same as not paying taxes, SS, Medicare, Medicade still apply. 2. Your number is too high even for income taxes Here are some real numbers: http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/do_40_percent_of_americans_pay_no.html [factcheck.org] I welcome your updated numbers if you can find them.

    Heck, I doubt my taxes cover all the services I receive and I am in the top 20% of income earners. Of course this depends on how I factor defense spending as a service.

    We have way too much of our tax burden assigned to the wealthy.

    We have way too little of our tax burden assigned to the wealthy. As a percentage of income, they are paying historically low rates. See the wikipedia page on income tax, look for the tax rates section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]. I'd be all for returning us to the rates of Reagan year of 1986. How does that sound? Combine the low rates with the huge shift of income to the highest percentage earners, and we have a tax code that is systematically letting the rich steal from the middle class.

  • by saleenS281 (859657) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:28PM (#34906036) Homepage
    Switzerland's top tax bracket is 40%+, so I'm not really sure what it is you're trying to get at. That we need higher taxes on the wealthy in America? I agree.
  • Re:Hit them back (Score:4, Informative)

    by tophermeyer (1573841) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:51PM (#34906364)

    Do you realize how retarded it makes you look to use multiple accounts to rail against people for hiding behind pseudonymity?

    You understand that nobody takes you seriously, right?

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:1, Informative)

    by scot4875 (542869) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:22PM (#34906876) Homepage

    I don't see any credible evidence that an attempt will be made to balance the budget in my lifetime

    We had a balanced budget a little over a decade ago. It was only after the "party of fiscal responsibility" took over that spending really spiraled out of control.

    --Jeremy

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:23PM (#34906892) Homepage

    the fact that the gov mismanages our funds has nothing to do with the fact that the funds are NEEDED to 'run society'.

    You're wrong on two counts:

    1) It distorts the calculations on what is actually needed for the common good. That has everything to do with what we really need.

    2) It undermines the sense of duty people have to obey the law and contribute.

    The government is supposed to obey the law and serve the common good. When it doesn't and gets away with it, people feel like chumps for going along with it in the best of cases. In the worst cases, they feel like the rule of law is meaningless.

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:5, Informative)

    by sznupi (719324) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:41PM (#34907174) Homepage

    US has (together with the UK) the lowest social mobility between generations among developed countries (how far children can progress from the socioeconomic status of their parents, basically) - so much for "self motivation, personal responsibility, hard work, American Dream" (just that, a dream, another product to sell)

    The highest is in so-called "nanny states" BTW.

  • by Bemopolis (698691) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:12PM (#34907630)

    Tell me, what is the significant difference between "tax" and "theft"?

    I know this one. The ability and legality of the US Government to levy and collect taxes is directly codified in the Constitution.

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:5, Informative)

    by knight24k (1115643) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:09PM (#34908376)

    I don't see any credible evidence that an attempt will be made to balance the budget in my lifetime

    We had a balanced budget a little over a decade ago. It was only after the "party of fiscal responsibility" took over that spending really spiraled out of control.

    --Jeremy

    Really? that's strange because the debt history shows that the US debt has risen every single year since 1977 and probably going back to 1870 although wiki doesn't break out individual years past 1977. Regardless of which party is in office, or which party controls congress and thereby the purse, the debt keeps going up and accelerating.

    You should place less faith in what the talking heads of either party say they are doing and what the actual records shows they did. At the current rate of increase Obama's administration will outstrip both Bush and Clinton in debt accumulation....combined.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_U.S._public_debt [wikipedia.org]

    The problem is when they claim a balanced budget, they neglect to mention the various programs they have decided to exclude from the formula. Both sides of the aisle are a bunch of Elitist millionaires who make a habit of exempting themselves from the very laws they impose on the rest of us. I distrust all of them until such time there is both a balanced budget law/amendment and term limits on the lot of them.

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:10PM (#34908380)

    The only USA organizations that can certify doctors are the AMA (LCME) or AOA (COCA). They have a federally mandated monopoly on your access to medicine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_MD_and_DO_in_the_United_States

    This is why a Nurse with 25 years of experience can not remove a mole - technically the removal of mole is considered a limited surgical procedure and requires a medical license.

    The current system is a exclusive club organized and controlled by doctors. Listen to any general practitioner talk about the future of their profession and they will complain that they are being taken over by cheaper Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants. Most of them will defend the absurd notion that you need a medical degree to do basic care.

    Let me give you a scenario. I have 6 years experience as a Trama Life Support EMT. If I have a personal Epi-Pen in my backpack hiking on a mountain trail out of my jurisdiction and I see someone get stung by a bee and start having an allergic reaction - I can not give someone an Epi-Pen to aid a bee sting reaction without a physicians approval (standing order). Since I am out of my jurisdiction I am not covered by any standing order my LEGAL obligation is to call 911 (if I can get service) and watch the person hit the ground. Once they start to pass out from lack of air I might be able to give them CPR but I can not give an Epi-Pen since it requires an DEA license to distribute.

    So...I have the skills, equipment and first hand knowledge to save someone's life but I can not becasue I can go to jail for practicing without a license. In this situation I would of course try to to save the life if I could but in doing so I would risk my career, home, savings, and freedom.

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:4, Informative)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:46PM (#34908748)

    Even if someone opens up a shop, it doesn't mean you trust their credentials unless they act with deliberate subterfuge, and if they're willing to go that far they might ignore licensing laws anyway.

    Your leech example is a very, very bad argument, because medical science in those times was non-existent and if you had regulatory bodies then they'd still be happily accepting common "knowledge" over mumbo-jumbo much in the same way the British Health system (used to until recently?) accept homeopathy. Your implicit belief is that regulatory bodies operate objectively and on sound science, which is neither true nor really possible (since "accepted science" is based on convention and the absolute truth is unknown to us). You have a very poor understanding of the history of medicine if you think that stuff like bloodletting and leeches was due to no regulation--it was based on theory at the time, rooted in the thought of Galen, Hippocraties, and other Greeks. Unscientific, yes, but these were hardly scientific times.

    But a much stronger point is that simply a lot of the regulations are too strict and act to restrict people that DO have enough training and expertise.

    As an additional musing, if you belief that the government should regulate things out of truth, then should the government regulate religious belief and only allow "scientifically true" beliefs, i.e., only those that can be demonstrated factually? Should advice be regulated in exactly the same manner that psychology is, since bad advice on human behavior is in essence malpractice in psychology?

  • Re:Hit them back (Score:5, Informative)

    by SETIGuy (33768) on Monday January 17, 2011 @05:41PM (#34909256) Homepage

    In the US, government jobs pay significantly better than private sector jobs on average.

    One of the famous "lie while telling the truth" games that the right loves to play. The average US government job does pay more than the average private sector job. But US government jobs are NOT average jobs. Most require higher levels of education and experience than the average private sector job.

    When compared to others of equal education and experience, US government workers are paid about 20% less than private sector workers. The discrepancy is worse for workers in medical fields and legal fields where the discrepancy approaches 45% (i.e. VA hospitals don't pay well) The only government workers that are paid better than their private sector workers are the ones at the bottom of the salary scale, janitors and menial laborers, and those, only by about 4%.

    But apparently the right thinks a government lawyer should be paid like a grocery store clerk.

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