The gnomes of Zurich are silent no longer
Past actions are catching up with some Swiss banking clients
Mr Cahuzac is just one individual but in Brazil large parts of the business and political elite are threatened by revelations emerging from Switzerland. A bribery scandal involving Petrobras, the national oil company, is revealing illicit payments and much of the information is coming from Swiss prosecutors.
Last month, the Swiss arrested Fernando Migliaccio da Silva, a Brazilian businessman and former executive of the Odebrecht construction company, as he attempted to close an account in Geneva. Mr da Silva was suspected of paying bribes to Petrobras directors, through accounts in Switzerland. Marcelo Odebrecht, the billionaire former CEO of the company, has just been jailed for 19 years for his role in the Petrobras scandal.
Other prominent Brazilians have also been caught out by their Swiss connections. João Santana, the former campaign manager for President Dilma Rousseff, has been arrested and accused of illegally depositing money in Swiss bank accounts. Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of parliament, faces charges of hiding millions in Petrobras-related bribes in Switzerland.
Investigations relating to Swiss banks have also had a major effect on Spanish and Greek politics.
One of the reasons that Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, failed to secure a majority in elections in December was the backwash from a scandal: in 2013 it was revealed that Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of Mr Rajoy’s People’s Party, had accumulated millions of euros in Swiss bank accounts, which he had allegedly used to make illicit payments in Spain.
The financial crisis in Greece meanwhile has shone a spotlight on widespread tax evasion by that country’s elite. A list of more than 2,000 Greeks with accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC became known as the “Lagarde list”, after Christine Lagarde, who, when finance minister of France, handed it to Greek authorities in 2010.
The Lagarde list had been stolen by a disgruntled employee. The more recent revelations to come out of Switzerland have emerged through official channels. In 2018, Switzerland will move to automatic exchange of information with other global tax authorities. There may well be further scandals to come.