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Swiss banks under fire from US and Europe

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Bank secrecy - as Swiss as yodeling, cheese, and the Matterhorn - is under mounting foreign fire.

This time shots are not from third world interest groups, which see developing countries' riches disappearing into Alpine coffers. The complainers are industrialized countries - the United States, France, and Italy.

In recent months, a series of irritating events prompted Switzerland's European neighbors and the Americans to get tough. So much so that Swiss bankers have become more than a little concerned about a tarnished image and its effect on business.

This week, from March 1st to 3rd, a six-man delegation from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the US Departments of State and Justice is airing its grievances in Berne and Zurich to federal officials and bankers. Top of the agenda: mysterious insider transactions on US stock exchanges last year which the SEC supposedly tracked to Swiss bank clients and a wall of silence.

Under Article 47 of the Swiss Banking Act, if a banker gives information, without a client's permission, he can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $26,000. The only way a bank can open up its records is if an account can be tied to an offense which is a crime in Switzerland.

Threatened by SEC sanctions, one Swiss bank did persuade its client to give his name. Others stayed firm voicing a strong distaste for attempted American interference in Swiss law. Privately, however, Swiss bankers are concerned that a tough SEC could curtail Swiss bank activites in US stock exchanges. Discussing the ''conflict of laws,'' as one Berne US Embassy official put it, is what this week's Swiss-American talks are about.


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