American Federal Authorities according to press reports are pushing hard to have Switzerland’s UBS AG bank reveal a list of several American nationals who hold secret bank accounts in the bank.
The Swiss bank has apparently vowed to fight back in order to protect the identities of the 52,000 Americans who hold secret bank accounts there.
The beef here for the American authorities is that these rich guys hid their bank accounts in violation of American tax laws. This implies that they set out to evade paying taxes and hence the secret Swiss accounts in Switzerland’s UBS.
But what has such a lawsuit filed in Florida and to be determined by an American federal Judge got to do with us in Africa? Should an average man in Liberia or Chad be concerned?
The answer here, I believe, should be in the affirmative. Well, I have little knowledge about law, since I studied Political Science at University, but I guess there is something to the effect that the success of one case sets a precedent for similar cases in the courts of law.
The success or failure of the American Federal government case against the Swiss bank may in a way set a precedent for similar cases. And this brings us to our situation in Africa. In most of Africa, Swiss bank accounts, and secret at that, are held by thieving autocrats of the Mobutu ilk.
The rulers, their relatives, friends and in-laws with whom they lord it over the rest of the population are known to constantly dip their figures into the national till to finance their luxurious lifestyles. The remainder is stashed away in foreign banks, mostly, secret Swiss banks.
They stash their loot in Switzerland because; this European country has a banking tradition that is treasured by big time thieves because of its strict confidentiality.
And this has worked for many an African ruling kleptomaniac, to the detriment of the citizens and at the same time, making Switzerland one of the richest countries in the world. Obviously, the Swiss have every reason, though selfish, to jealously guard this banking tradition.
Not so many years ago, the Nigerian government was involved in negotiations with Maryam Abacha the widow of the former Nigerian tyrant Sani Abacha, to recover the money they looted from the national coffers while they held power.
More than USD 1 billion is estimated to have been withdrawn by the Abacha family from state coffers. Other estimates put the figure much higher than that.
Whatever the amount, some of the money was recovered but most of it was not, thanks to banking secrecy in many foreign banks where the money was banked.
It is not clear whether in the aftermath of the fall of Mobutu; efforts were made to recover what he and his hangers-on, bootlickers and scavenging opportunists had looted from the state, during his three decades in power.
Thus, if UBS is forced by court to divulge the names of the Americans who have secret accounts in the bank, will this imply that other people like the long suffering Africans can also file lawsuits to have the secret foreign bank accounts of their rulers both in and out of power exposed?
If so what would this imply? Foremost, it is well known that most African rulers are wealthy to filthy proportions. Whether true or not, that is what is widely assumed, and is most probably true given the disdain and manner in which most of them treat their citizens.
Would exposure serve any purpose in the first place, since many rulers do not hold power because they are loved but because they have managed to instil fear in the masses?
All this remains to be seen.
The Swiss banking tradition of secrecy should also become of interest to the United Nations Security Council. They should not only bother themselves with putting warlords to trial for war crimes, but also for economic crimes.
After all, by looting from their people, these rulers are also endangering the security of citizens in terms of denying them economic independence and hence food security, which is also a cause of death like any other war crime.