Suspicious Secrecy From the Swiss!


Taib did not get the response that he wanted from the Swiss Government yesterday.  But he did buy some time.

In answer to questions from MP Maya Graf in the Bern Federal Parliament, the Swiss Finance Minister, Evelyn Widmer Schlum, fell back on traditional Swiss secrecy!

The country’s financial regulators FINMA would not be able to publicise the findings from their investigations into Taib’s assets, Widmer-Schlumpf explained, owing to Swiss confidentiality laws.

She announced that FINMA has ”no possibility, nor the right“ to disclose any information on its findings to the public. Rather, it ”will inform the directly affected persons only“ on the results of its investigations.

Those interested parties are, presumably, Taib himself and the Malaysian Government.  But what about the people of Sarawak, who have lost billions in revenue owing to the Chief Minister’s handouts of public property, concessions and contracts to his own companies and to his family?

Still on the hook!

Swiss Finance Minister, Evelyn Widmer-Schlumpf

While this cryptic response has infuriated campaigners, who had been given to understand that Switzerland’s new drive for more openess in its banking system would bring swift and clear answers, it has done little to help Taib.

The reply that would have benefitted the Chief Minister, of course, would have been a straight confirmation of his own declaration earlier in the year, after the investigation was announced, that he had no assets in Switzerland at all!

Indeed, Sarawak’s billionaire politician had laid his reputation on the line by standing up in his own state assembly and announcing:

 “Let me state categorically that I have no secret Swiss bank account, nor assets or investments of any description. None whatsoever”.[Taib Mahmud statement]

The Swiss Finance Minister has refused to corroborate this statement.  Instead her reply seems to give the strong impression that there ARE interested parties who need to be informed of the results of this investigation!

How long are his secrets safe?

Maya Graf – Green MP, Swiss Parliament

Campaigners are hardly going to allow the situation to rest there.  The Swiss, who have been trying to wipe clean their reputation as a country that made itself rich off the back of Nazi gold and the ill-gotten gains of the world’s worst dictators, are in the middle of a national argument over ending its obsessive banking secrecy.

The Finance Ministry may be on the side of conservatism, however the former President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who ordered the enquiry, made clear that she was in favour of openess  and yesterday the Green MP Maya Graf said:

“I am disappointed that the Swiss government is hiding behind the Swiss banking secrecy and thus helps promote corruption in countries with weak governments.  There is no point in complaining about the destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests as long as Western countries assist corrupt families like the Taibs enrich themselves by cutting down the forests.”

It is not the sort of endorsement that Taib would have wished for from Switzerland and it is a clear sign that the story is by no means finished as campaigners step up their noise on this matter.  The Sarawak-focused Bruno Manser Fund demanded:

“How can it be that our authorities will inform a corrupt potentate but not the public on the findings of their investigations?“[BMF press release]

Taib will know that the longer an issue is bottled up, the bigger the bang when it is finally un-corked!