Politicians feel heat over Swiss accounts

Swiss bank accounts are making the headlines in France and Spain. Keystone

A former banker has handed the French authorities a list allegedly containing the names of top politicians owning undeclared Swiss accounts. Meanwhile, bank accounts belonging to Spain ruling party’s ex-treasurer have been frozen in Geneva.

This content was published on July 3, 2013 minutes and agencies

Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a former executive of the Swiss private bank Reyl et Cie, told a French parliamentary commission on Wednesday that he had sent a list of well-known political figures with a Swiss bank account to the French justice department.

Condamin-Gerbier, one of the principal witnesses in the enquiry into secret Swiss bank accounts owned by the former French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, refused to reveal the names on the list, saying it was for the eyes of the justice system alone.

The former Reyl executive told French senators in June that he had a list with a dozen names of former and current French ministers with accounts in Switzerland and that Cahuzac was just a "fall guy". The former budget minister quit in March over an undeclared Swiss bank account. Cahuzac reportedly attempted to deposit €15 million (CHF18 million) in Geneva in 2009.

A judicial enquiry was opened at the end of May for ‘tax fraud money-laundering” against Reyl following witness statements made by Condamin-Gerbier in the Cahuzac enquiry.

The Swiss tax administration has reportedly refused to appear before the French parliamentary commission on the Cahuzac affair or meet commission members as such meetings are not foreseen by current Franco-Swiss conventions or treaties.

Falciani appearance

Condamin-Gerbier's appearance follows that of Hervé Falciani, a former HSBC Geneva employee wanted in Switzerland for leaking the details of tens of thousands of bank accounts, who on Tuesday gave evidence to French parliamentarians trying to tighten rules against tax evasion.

According to two Socialist deputies who met with him in a closed session, Falciani spent four hours describing ways he said the bank helped its clients sidestep taxes using various loopholes and exemptions under national laws.

"He said there were entire (bank) departments ... dedicated to staying one step ahead of the law and that we were not well-equipped enough," said parliamentarian Yann Galut, praising Falciani as a whistleblower who revealed tax evasion on an "industrial" scale.

An HSBC spokesman said the bank could not comment on the hearing itself, as it had not been officially informed.

HSBC and Switzerland's UBS are now under investigation in France over whether they unlawfully sold products designed to avoid tax.

Falciani was in France after taking refuge in Spain from Swiss authorities seeking his extradition. He avoided being sent back to Switzerland when Spanish authorities ruled that the charges he faced were not considered crimes under Spanish law.

Governments are cracking down on tax avoidance in the wake of the financial crisis, raising the pressure on countries such as Switzerland whose laws on client confidentiality make it easier for foreigners to hide wealth from the tax man.

Frozen Spanish assets

In a separate case, Geneva prosecutor Jean-Bernard Schmid confirmed on Tuesday that he had ordered the freezing of Swiss bank accounts allegedly opened by former treasurer of the Spanish People’s Party, Luis Barcenas.

The assets in the accounts seized by Schmid will be blocked until the enquiries launched in Spain determine the origin of the money deposited in Switzerland.

After freezing the assets and once it’s confirmed that Barcenas broke the law, “the assets will be confiscated. Later we will discuss with Spain the form in which the money will be returned,” Schmid told, adding that “everything depends on the Spanish courts”.

The Spanish National Court jailed Barcenas at the end of June on provisional tax fraud and money laundering charges.

Barcenas served in the party's treasury for 20 years but resigned in 2009 after he was named in a probe into alleged irregular party financing.

The court recently found Barcenas had up to 47 million euros ($61 million) in bank accounts with the Geneva branches of the Lombard Odier and Dresdner banks.

Barcenas is also under investigation for allegedly running a People's Party slush fund that took donations from construction magnates and redistributed them in cash payments to party leaders.

The 55-year-old has repeatedly said he is innocent of the charges against him and that his money came from legitimate business activities.

The corruption scandals have damaged the credibility of the ruling party and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and angered Spaniards who are struggling with a deep recession and high unemployment.

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