Pandora Papers: In Switzerland, tax evasion thrives cushy

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Red brick, a facade of blind walls and another with windows that look like loopholes… At number 1 of via Maggio, on the edge of downtown Lugano, in Ticino (Switzerland), the building, a work of the local “starchitect” Mario Botta, imposes some, since its creation, by its brutalism.

After the revelations on the circuits of tax evasion on a planetary scale, and in particular the last ones emanating from the Pandora Papers, the building can also symbolize a shift in the hushed world of tax engineering. The fortress protecting the money of multinationals and great fortunes is still in place, but, inside, the elite troops have moved from one pole to another: farewell to the bank – the BPS -, side face; hello, the fiduciary company – Fidinam -, profile side!

The “king of the offshore”

Under international pressure, Switzerland is pulling back on its sacrosanct banking secrecy, but, on a global scale, it remains on the podium of jurisdictions offering the most extensive and opaque toolbox for holders of capital. eager to evade them. But how then? If bankers, in the strict sense, must now keep their heads down, lawyers, notaries, financial advisers and wealth managers, all of whom can take on the role of the former, largely keep their hands free and continue to do so. escape the law on money laundering. Last spring, the Swiss sector lobby succeeded in pushing back a legislative revision project which would have forced these intermediaries, great architects of tax evasion schemes, to no longer take refuge behind their “professional secrecy” in order to increase the number of front companies. and protect their customers at all costs.

But back to Lugano. Fidinam is a real institution, one of the largest fiduciaries in Ticino, and therefore in all of Switzerland, and it is not new. Founded in 1960 by Tito Tettamanti, a young banker, at the time elected State Councilor in the colors of the Conservative Party – dismissed very quickly, however, after being splashed in a case of tax fraud -, which would later become, according to the expression of a Swiss journalist, since the 1990s, the “king of the offshore”, Fidinam has long benefited from its strategic position on an axis between Milan, Rome or Palermo, and Vaduz, in Liechtenstein, then, from there, all the tax havens on the planet. In recent decades, the names of the company and its founder appear behind the scenes in most of the major Politique-financial scandals (Tangentopoli, Parmalat, Enimont, etc.); more recently, one of its Italian subsidiaries is cited in a secret treasury case within the Lombard League (far right). Never until now, however, have the trustee and her historic boss been directly prosecuted or convicted …

A key point in global financial crime

Not sure, however, that the powerful Ticino-based fiduciary who, in an advertisement from the 2000s, benevolently invited its clients to transfer, for 650 dollars (560 euros), their assets to a “letterbox” company registered in the British Virgin Islands, is also easily removed from the Pandora Papers. Like most of the “flagships” of the Swiss financial industry, Fidinam featured prominently in the revelations made at the beginning of October by the international consortium of investigative journalists (Icij). Leaks suggest the company didn’t just set up shell companies, but also directly managed the bank accounts of some of its clients. Which, even in Swiss law, could be reprehensible …

Beyond Fidinam’s direct denials – the company argues that it “respects and has always diligently respected legal and regulatory obligations” – the world of Swiss tax engineering finds itself, in the Pandora Papers, at a key point in global financial crime. According to Icij, Fidinam, for example, directly held a power of attorney on a secret account of Massimo Bochicchio, an Italian financier who is now being sued for a vast fraud totaling 520 million euros. The fiduciary also counts, among its clients, Delfo Zorzi, a figure referring to neofascist terrorism in Italy – he was long suspected of having participated in the bombing of Piazza Fontana, in Milan in December 1969 – before his recycling as emperor. of fashion in Japan: accused by the Italian justice of having indirectly stolen 75 million euros from the tax authorities, the man paid for a luxurious home using the discreet services of a front company hosted by Fidinam.

Alcogal, in the nets

Other arrangements imagined in Ticino refer to the Caribbean and Panama. Directly in business with Fidinam, Jaime Aleman, boss of the Panamanian law firm and consultants Alcogal – champion in all categories in the Pandora Papers for his services to the King of Jordan Abdallah, to the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, to the Kenyan and Congolese presidents , and dozens of others -, flatly described the mechanism in a book entitled – without laughing – “Honesty is priceless”: “The customer goes to Switzerland, he opens an account whose beneficiary is a Panamanian company that can operate in secrecy, and has no obligation to pay taxes in Switzerland or Panama. “

At number 1 of Via Maggio in Lugano, the Swiss NGO Public Eye has counted 116 empty shell companies (335 taking into account those that have been canceled recently) hosted at Fidinam’s headquarters. A few years ago, Tito Tettamanti, still honorary chairman of the fiduciary, also delivered to a journalist from the Geneva daily “Le Temps”, enamored in front of an osso-buco “so tasty and so tender”, his philosophy profound, at the same time brutal, cynical and, at bottom, priceless. “I cannot explain banking secrecy to the French, but I can keep it in Switzerland because it expresses our culture of the private sphere,” he said. Do we want a Switzerland where everyone knows everything? Where do I know you have diabetes by the health card, drink too much alcohol by the credit card, have a girlfriend through social media? “

According to an estimate by the OECD, in 2020, this “private sphere” and its “culture” hold, let us remember, 9,770 billion euros in tax havens, far from the eyes and hearts of citizens around the world.

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