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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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  • by devxo (1963088) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:04PM (#34904866)
    I guess Assange didn't like that the swiss bank PostFinance closed his account.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:11PM (#34904958)

      Indeed, I question the motivations of both Assange and this Elmer guy.
      It's probably just another FUDD tactic.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:14PM (#34904990)

        Aha. Its a scam.

        1. Have a Swiss bank confiscate your money
        2. Publish name of other customers at bank ...
        3 Profit!!

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

        by Pojut (1027544) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:16PM (#34905032) Homepage

        FUD tactic or now, if the information is valid and real, this still carries numerous implications with it. For example, were certain wealthy politicians who rail against taxes found to be holding considerable sums of money in non-taxed accounts...

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

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:23PM (#34905116)

          Actually it would work better the other way. People who are voting to raise taxes hiding money in no-taxed accounts is where the story is.

          Of course people who don't like taxes are trying to avoid them...

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

          by tehcyder (746570) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:23PM (#34905118) Journal

          FUD tactic or now, if the information is valid and real, this still carries numerous implications with it. For example, were certain wealthy politicians who rail against taxes found to be holding considerable sums of money in non-taxed accounts...

          Wouldn't it be more damaging for politicians who supported high taxes to be holding considerable sums of money in non-taxed accounts?

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

            by MrDoh! (71235) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:24PM (#34905144) Homepage Journal

            Either way, it's going to be hilarious.

          • by Pojut (1027544)

            Sorry, yes...I have a case of typing stupidity this morning -_-;;

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Wouldn't it be more damaging for politicians who supported high taxes to be holding considerable sums of money in non-taxed accounts?

            What, like when U2 moved out of Ireland [independent.ie] to the Netherlands to avoid paying tax?

            Bonus hypocrisy points to Bono for saying that we all need to pay more in tax to help the developing world...

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

        by icebraining (1313345) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:28PM (#34905194) Homepage

        Who cares about the motivations? We don't have to like Assange or Elmer to appreciate the disclosure of the info.

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

          by raddan (519638) * on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:40PM (#34906190)
          I sort of wonder if this is an olive branch from Wikileaks to the US government. After all, the United States has been pressuring Switzerland to allow investigators to peek inside Swiss accounts for awhile now. You may recall that the US offered amnesty [msn.com] to tax evaders using Swiss accounts who 'fessed-up a couple years ago. This provides some incentive to the US government to ease up a bit on Wikileaks.
    • Re:Hit them back (Score:4, Interesting)

      by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:14PM (#34904986)

      I think this is going to backfire on him. I think he believes that if he does something to help governments (allowing them to track down tax dodgers) that they may leave him alone.. I doubt it, usually national security trumps internal revenue.. but not always.

      It's also going to backfire because many of his supporters believe strongly in personal privacy (while oddly, wanting full transparency for everything else), and they will view this as WikiLeaks invading personal privacy. (it's not just the filthy rich that have "hidden" bank accounts).

      • by imunfair (877689)

        Supporting personal privacy, yet wanting government to be transparent is not a dichotomy - especially when government officials end up taking away personal privacy to protect or increase their power.

        A minimal government that doesn't play puppet master with world politics, try to protect citizens against themselves, and doesn't spend on pork projects is a government without need for much privacy. The reason governments hide most things isn't to protect the country - it's to protect the duplicitous government

    • 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.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        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.

        Assuming the gov't isn't in on money laundering, you mean?

    • 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 ...

  • 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 eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:23PM (#34905120) Journal

      There are more details here. [nytimes.com]

      It is indeed a better link and was one I found in my Google Reader this morning. However, I also have noticed continuously that New York Times links provide me headaches and disappointment when used in Slashdot's submission process. Here's a recent example, earlier this morning I submitted a story about video games and mental health problems [slashdot.org]. Now in that submission I referred to a well written New York Times article an used this URL:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/us/17gaming.html

      Every time I previewed it or edited it, it came out like that. But when I hit submit, it magically changed to this URL:

      http://www.nytimes.com/glogin?URI=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/us/17gaming.html&OQ=_rQ3D4&OP=70b1f348Q2FQ5D-2yQ5DgoksPooZQ27Q5DQ27W33Q5DW3Q5D3VQ5DisQ5D3VdQ241Q26rdQ25OZ14

      What is going on? I've written to CmdrTaco about this and I thought he said they'd look at it ... like their system prefetches URLs or something? Makes adjustments to avoid TinyURL in the submission? Avoids redirects that might go to goatse? I don't know. What I do know is that if you go to the firehose and type in 'nytimes' as your search term you will find submission after submission with login/paywalled URLs exactly like the one above. Here's one [slashdot.org] and another [slashdot.org] and another [slashdot.org] ad infinitum.

      So when you do this, people get upset they can't read the article and I heavily sympathize with them and generally consider my submission a failed attempt when that happens. So the solution? Don't link to the New York Times in submissions! I'll find some other site to send a billion Slashdot eyes at if they don't want their page views. It really is a shame because I love the New York Times and think they have some great writers but from the above it's evident the affection is asymmetrical.

  • by matt007 (80854) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:14PM (#34904980)

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

    • 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....

    • by surgen (1145449) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:33PM (#34905272)

      During the Iraq war log leak someone at wikileaks, probably Assange, was interviewed on NPR where he said that just publishing something once they got it didn't garner the media attention on the documents that they wanted. It was only because of the fact they pussyfoot around with the media that they're interested in the information.

      When their goal is to get people to see the information they're publishing rather than just let it sit somewhere on a web server, it may be worth it for them to play the games they do. Yes its stupid that to get the attention they want they are forced to play "the game", but they've played it damn well.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:17PM (#34905044) Homepage Journal

    Just how long has world known that the Swiss are the bankers of choice for criminals, dictators, and the idle rich that do not want to pay their taxes?
    I mean really this is no shock to the world. I do have to wonder just how much blood money is in Swiss banks and how much of the wonderful Swiss lifestyle is paid for with the misery of the world.

  • by UncHellMatt (790153) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:19PM (#34905070)
    Considering the love-fest for Google around these parts, but they've been effectively dodging taxes for a few years. Why would it be a shock if politicians, celebrities and sundry millionaires / billionaires do the same?

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_44/b4201043146825.htm [businessweek.com]

    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 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.
    • by Draek (916851)

      Sure, as long as you adjust the laws to account for crap like Steve Jobs' "one dollar sallary and make the company pay for everything I do", or Bill Gates' "allow charities to use Office for free, then claim a donation equal to the number of copies used times Office's MSRP" schemes.

      Though, as another poster once said, as long as the potential savings of tax evasion are higher than the rates of lawyers and accountants, stuff like this will inevitably continue to happen.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:42PM (#34905396) Journal
      There's a whole Slashdot article [slashdot.org] with people ripping apart Google for "double Irish" and "dutch sandwich" styles of tax evasion.

      The only reason that it should hurt your karma is that you confusingly singled out Google when your own article lists Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, etc. Why pick on Google when everybody plays the same screw-the-taxpayer game? They're all crooks avoiding taxes in ways that a single individual like myself that makes very small fractions can't enjoy.

      You'll lose karma when you spin it like this: "Apple Hurts Schoolchildren by Avoiding Taxes" and "Google Welcomes World Peace by Denying War Machine Its Pound of Flesh." See what I did wrong there?
    • 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 WCMI92 (592436) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:36PM (#34905304) Homepage

    An individual who seeks to minimize his tax obligations or a government that feels that it is ENTITLED to tax everything that moves?

  • Oh good lord (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mysteray (713473) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:42PM (#34905402) Homepage

    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.

    Switzerland has great banks. In fact, there's at least one whole country where everybody puts there money there. There's no reason in the world not to put money in them. Having money in a Swiss bank is not a crime and it doesn't imply you're a criminal or a tax cheat. For example, maybe people are spooked by the circus surrounding US banks or something.

    The static from the US IRS got so bad that Swiss banks simply closed all accounts of "American persons". They completely kicked Americans out of their customer base. I find that pretty darn disappointing that my country is acting so obnoxiously that I personally can't do business on equal footing with the rest of the modern world.

  • by js3 (319268) on Monday January 17, 2011 @12:47PM (#34905452)

    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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BradleyUffner (103496)

      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.

  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:27PM (#34906020)
    However, I want to know who these people are who owed the IRS 1 million dollars but only had to pay three thousand! i hate the IRS as much as the next guy, but those ads make me kind of mad!
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:56PM (#34907392)

    Personal Swiss bank accounts are so 1990s. What Wikileaks will be revealing (and the IRS/Treasuery/US DoJ already has access to) is a list of names attached to accounts. That's a list of stupid people who went out on their own and got a Swiss account because they thought they were smarter than the law.

    The big bucks are sitting in bank and brokerage accounts under corporate names. Foreign corporations that the USA can't touch, owned by a series of holding companies, the details of which are locked in a filing cabinet somewhere in the Caymen Islands.

    Sure, there's 10 million francs in a Swiss account held for ACME GmBH. Who owns and controls them? Meanwhile, someone owns 100 shares of stock in Nauru Industries. Where's the connection? Good luck untangling that mess.

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