Two events in sequence.
One: international consortium of journalists splashes on successive days on their investigation into tax evasion (many years ago) by clients of Bank X in Switzerland.
Two: a week later, the Swiss authorities raid the offices of Bank X.
Somewhere someone will contend the timing is mere coincidence. But it isn’t.
What can we learn from this sequence?
This: tax havens care about reputational issues.
I wrote in more detail about what business tax havens are really in here. They compete to attract foreigners’ money. If a UK depositor starts to ask himself questions about how HMRC will view his ownership of a Swiss bank account – will it be a red flag? – he will wonder whether to move his money elsewhere. And it’s to avoid that happening – to give the appearance of Switzerland being a respectable player in the global fiscal community – that the Swiss clamp down. And, whatever the reasons for it, that clamp down improves local compliance.
If you want to reduce tax evasion, or money laundering, you need to find ways to bring pressure to bear on how tax havens operate. You need to recognise that they are so often in the business of disrupting sightlines between the money and those who own it. Improve those sightlines and you can meaningfully threaten sanctions. Meaningfully threaten sanctions and you reduce tax evasion and money laundering. Sightlines and sanctions.
What we can learn from today’s crackdown in Switzerland is that reputational issues are an effective lever.
So, well done – in the UK – the Guardian and Panorama. Well done for shining a torch into Swiss vaults. And now, let’s have a little more please.