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Russ Baker Headshot

UBS or Just Plain BS?

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The Obama Justice Department has just floated a trial balloon to see if it can drop a legal effort to force the Swiss Bank UBS to disclose the names of 52,000 rich Americans suspected of using the bank to evade US taxes. Back in February, the Justice Department sued the bank in an effort to force it to name names. Now, however, a straight, rather unquestioning article in the New York Times' business section -- likely not to get the attention it deserves -- reveals that the whole matter may just disappear.

The apparent change of plans is offered to the Times by "a United States official briefed on the matter...The move, which would halt an unusually aggressive effort to force Switzerland to lift its veil of banking secrecy, could happen by mid-July."

And the reason for this? An aggressive lobbying campaign. The Swiss bank's central claim is that if it discloses client names it would "violate Swiss financial secrecy laws and open its executives and bankers to prosecution in Switzerland."

That seems highly improbable -- more an excuse than a true justification for halting the effort to track wealthy Americans who shirk their responsibility to their fellow citizens. If the US successfully compels these Swiss bank officials to provide information about illegal behavior by US citizens, it is certainly a stretch to imagine those bankers being jailed in their own country for being so compelled.

Crucial context is missing here. One way to understand the stakes is to study the deeper nature of UBS's relationship with the United States, including a long history of involvement in murky international ventures with all the hallmarks of covert offshore intelligence operations. For more on that, I refer you to material contained in my book, Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America.