Swiss switch

The US and Switzerland deserve credit for reaching a new pact that will ease Swiss bank secrecy laws. The bank laws - growing out of the Nazi era when many Jewish families fled Germany and sought to protect their assets in hidden accounts - will remain intact for most customers. But the protection of secrecy will no longer extend to dealings by corporate insiders suspected of using secret Swiss accounts to hide their illegal manipulations in the US stock market. Earlier revisions in the Swiss banking laws had already provided limited access to secret accounts if violations of certain criminal laws in both nations were suspected.

The new US-Swiss bank pact is a step in the right direction. The US must now reach similar agreements with a number of nations - such as Panama, the Bahamas, and Bermuda - whose secrecy laws are exploited by narcotics dealers, organized crime members, and stock market manipulators. It is one thing to take out a secret account to protect one's financial assets for legitimate reasons. It is quite another to hide wrongdoing behind a facade of legality.

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