Geneva: Switzerland's tax disputes with the United States and some European nations are "an economic war" putting 20,000 jobs at risk, the CEO of Swiss banking giant UBS AG has been quoted as saying.
Switzerland has recently tried to shed its image as a tax haven, signing deals with the United States, Germany and Britain to provide greater assistance to foreign tax authorities seeking information on their citizens' accounts in the Alpine nation.
But the tax agreements have drawn fire from Switzerland's nationalist People's Party, which won more than a quarter of the vote in last year's general election, with some lawmakers saying they will try to block the treaties through referendums.
Sergio Ermotti, who was appointed CEO of Switzerland's largest bank in November in the wake of a trading scandal, says Switzerland now is "stuck in the middle of economic warfare" and its opponents' goal is to weaken UBS and the next biggest bank, Credit Suisse, according to Zurich Sunday newspaper SonntagsZeitung.
US authorities in particular have dealt Switzerland and its banks several serious blows over the past few years, resulting in several significant concessions to Swiss banking secrecy.
Investigations against at least 11 banks, including Credit Suisse, are still pending, on suspicion they too helped Americans hide money abroad, following the successful case against UBS AG, which had to pay a USD 780 million fine and hand over 4,450 clients' files to Washington in 2010.
Since then, an amnesty program and the arrest of several Swiss bankers have given US authorities ample ammunition to pursue some of the country's other banks.
But Switzerland has insisted throughout its negotiations with other governments that it won't accept any automatic transfer of information on foreign account holders ensuring that a semblance of its banking secrecy remains in place.
"For us this is an economic war," Ermotti was quoted as saying. "Since 2008, Switzerland has been attacked."
The banks' rivals seek a share of their combined foreign assets of USD 2.42 trillion, forcing UBS to cut costs and imperilling 20,000 jobs, Ermotti also was quoted in the Sunday paper as saying.
First Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012, 20:00