A NUMBER OF BOOKS and movies have depicted Swiss banks as the ideal place to hide money from inquisitive Internal Revenue Service agents, criminal prosecutors, or rightful owners of stolen funds. In common with other tax havens, Switzerland levies minimal taxes and encourages large investments by foreign interests. Switzerland has the additional advantage of strict laws on banking security. Swiss law establishes criminal penalties for those who irresponsibly, either through direct action or negligence, violate banking secrecy.

While it is possible to place money in bank accounts in Switzerland that are known to most bank employees only through numbers or passwords, bank officials have always known the names of account holders. In order to provide some protection for themselves, Swiss banks are restricted to opening ...

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