Bankers back Switzerland’s decision not to change bank secrecy law

Swiss bankers on Tuesday defended a parliamentary committee’s decision not to overturn the country’s controversial Article 47 bank secrecy law, which has been criticized by the UN, journalists and human rights activists like a violation of freedom of the press.

Under Article 47, those who leak customer data from Swiss banks could face up to three years in prison and a heavy fine. (Photo: Thomas Wolf, Wikimedia, License)After meeting last week to deliberate on the matter, Swiss lawmakers chose not to touch the section of the federal law on banks and savings banks which provides for a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine for anyone who divulges confidential banking information about a client of a Swiss bank. .

“In the view of the majority of the Commission, there is no need for legislative action because Swiss banks have made great progress in recent years in the prevention of money laundering and other crimes in white-collar workers and compliance with international standards,” said a statement from the Swiss parliament.

She noted that to date, no one has ever been prosecuted under this law.

However, the law effectively muzzled local whistleblowers and barred local journalists from participating in a recent international investigation that uncovered some dodgy Credit Suisse clients.

But that didn’t scare away the 164 foreign journalists who combed through leaked account data at Switzerland’s second-largest bank, revealing war criminals, drug traffickers, their money launderers and other criminals kept their money there.

The article has “a chilling effect and leads journalists to self-censorship. This is prior censorship, meaning censoring the media before they can even investigate or publish,” the UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and opinion said last week. expression, Irene Khan, to Tamedia and Der Spiegel.

“This is normally a problem in authoritarian states,” she added.

That was not the intention when the law change was passed, Andreas Barfuss, head of legal and compliance at the Swiss Bankers Association, told KleinReport, a trade magazine covering the Swiss banking industry, on Tuesday. communications.

“The 2014 Private Members’ Business [article 47] was not intended to restrict the freedom of the press, but to punish the sale of bank customer data. They wanted to put an end to the trade in stolen bank data and the processing of stolen data,” he said, explaining that when data is stolen, there is no guarantee that innocent and respectable people will not be affected.

Regardless of its origin, its effect on Swiss journalism has been profound.

“The [Credit Suisse] data shows that bank customers have been involved in many crimes: from corruption and bribery to drug and human trafficking. There is a public interest in knowing about possible financial crimes,” Khan said.

She plans to take the issue to the UN General Assembly in June and after Friday’s parliamentary committee decision, Reporters Without Borders raised the idea of ​​taking it to the European Court of Human Rights.

“We regret this decision, but we do not lose hope that further parliamentary interventions will eventually change the lines.” Denis Masmejan, general secretary of Reporters Without Borders Switzerland, told the Guardian. “The application of article 47 to the media is absurd and incompatible with the freedom of the press… This will have to be remedied one way or another,” he added.

Michael J. Birnbaum