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Secrecy haunts Swiss banks

GENEVA, Mar 17 – Swiss bankers on Tuesday urged the government to adopt taxes and laws to restore the banking sector\’s competitiveness, after Switzerland caved in to pressure to ease banking secrecy.

"The new tax assistance policy will, to some extent, deprive our financial centre of a significant competitive advantage," the Swiss private bankers association said in a statement.

"It is now essential for Switzerland to move fast and adopt other measures – fiscal, regulatory, etc – aimed at restoring this competitiveness. Failing this, the whole country will pay the price," the association added.

It called on the government to obtain "equivalent advantages" from partner countries when negotiating deals on swapping information about tax evaders.

Private bankers generally cater exclusively for very wealthy clients.

Switzerland late last week gave in to mounting international pressure and said it would ease banking secrecy and swap information with foreign authorities to stamp out tax cheats.

On Monday, the government said in a written reply to a parliamentarian that the easing to banking secrecy could cost Swiss banks up to $12.25 billion in a "worst-case scenario".

However, the government added that the figure represented the total amount of assets held by foreigners in Switzerland and would assume that they all withdrew their money.

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