GENEVA, Switzerland, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- The Swiss government has stirred up a hornet's nest with an agreement to have banks give names of employees to U.S. authorities, some politicians are saying.
"Staff members have been betrayed in an abominable fashion by their employers, who could not or would not draw the lesson that had to be learned from the UBS situation," said Social Democrat parliamentarian Jean Christophe Schwaab.
Schwaab, who is also president of the Swiss Bank Employees Association's division that deals with French-speaking employees, also said Swiss banks had been playing with fire, Swissinfo.ch reported Wednesday.
"If today we are being attacked on all sides, it is because Swiss banks used tax evasion as a business model for too long, breaking the laws of other countries," Schwaab said.
While banks in Switzerland are world famous for their strict secrecy policies, UBS bank paid a massive fine to U.S. authorities and handed names to the Justice Department and the IRS in 2009 after a whistle blower claimed he was personally charged with helping wealthy U.S. clients keep assets secret from the U.S. tax authorities.
Whistle blower Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded $104 million for helping break the case but also sentenced for his part in the tax evasion activities.
In 2011, U.S. authorities extended their investigation, looking at 11 other Swiss banks in an investigation that forced the Swiss government's hand. With banks facing the possibility of enormous fines, the government relented and agreed to hand over the names of bank employees and consultants.
Many of them now fear if they leave Switzerland, they could be arrested for breaking U.S. laws, Schwaab said.
"A number of bank employees are afraid to venture outside Switzerland. Some have even been warned by the management of their bank not to travel abroad," he said.
Politically, Swissinfo.ch said, those on the left say the industry will be better served by transparency while those on the right say the privacy laws should have been upheld.
"The state cannot choose not to respect its own laws. Law is the only weapon a small country like ours has in dealing with others. If we fail to observe our own laws on our own territory, tomorrow not just the Americans, but neighboring countries will want to impose their laws on us," said Yves Nidegger of the Swiss People's Party.
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