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More adventurous than the average bear

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Swiss and Money

BBC Radio 4 - From Our Own Correspondent, A Turkish Mosaic:

"The Swiss worry about their image, but all images arise from some basic truths.

If you want to understand their attitude to money, you have to go back centuries, one young student reminded me.

The Swiss were Europe's mercenaries. They fought for whoever paid, nevermind the cause. And if they discovered the other side paid more they switched camps overnight.

And then there is that often misunderstood concept: banking secrecy. It arose originally not out of a desire to attract corrupt money, but out of a very Swiss conviction that the State should not interfere in individuals' financial affairs and that citizens can be trusted. So it's not considered polite to ask someone what they earn here, that's a private matter. Everyone pays their own taxes, nothing is deducted at source. Every year we all groan at the bureaucracy, but everyone I know does do it.

Add the long Swiss tradition of hundreds of little sporting associations. From ski clubs to hiking groups. Every village has them. Newcomers are expected to join. But the laws governing them are astonishingly lax. And until very recently the same laws applied to institutions like FIFA, whose current bank balance by the way stands at almost a billion pounds. No meaningful oversight, no requirement for transparent book-keeping, and a good few tax breaks.

Put all that tradition in a pot: the mercenaries, the banking secrecy and the village club laws, mix for a couple of centuries and what do you get?

An opportunistic financial sector which has made billions for Switzerland, partly through attracting the case of despots, drug barons and tax dodgers, and a cozy home for bloated multi-million pound businesses masquerading as not-for-profit sporting associations.

And in the figure of Sett Blatter, a man brought up in a small Swiss village where it wasn't considered polite to discuss money."
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