IRS fighting UBS on bank secrecy

The UBS logo hangs outside of a bank branch in Geneva, Switzerland.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Swiss banking colossus UBS lost its CEO last week, and now its chairman is on the way out. Peter Kurer says he'll step down in April at the end of his one-year term. UBS shares have fallen by a third this year, and the bank took a government bailout last fall.

UBS is also embroiled in a fight with U.S. tax officials. The IRS accuses the bank of helping rich Americans skip out on their taxes. Today, a Senate committee holds a hearing on those famous "unnamed Swiss bank accounts." Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.


Mitchell Hartman: U.S. authorities are suing UBS. They want financial data on as many as 52,000 Americans who are allegedly using secret Swiss accounts to avoid income tax. Sponsors of a law to crack the code of international bank secrecy say we lose a hundred billion a year to this kind of fraud.

Bob McIntyre: It's about 5 percent of the income tax revenues that we collect now.

That's Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. His group wants the IRS to increase staffing and hunt down these tax cheats.

McIntyre: In terms of the bank for the buck, for every IRS agent you had working on this, paying them $100,000 or whatever it costs, you'd probably collect 50 times as much, because there's so much money out there.

But defenders of Switzerland's long tradition of bank secrecy say not everyone who has an account with them is dodging the tax man. They say that many depositors have legitimate privacy concerns, and shouldn't be exposed to a global scavenger hunt for hidden wealth by the IRS.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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