Five questions answered on the closure of Switzerland’s oldest bank

Weglin pleads guilty to charges.

Swiss bank Wegelin has announced it will close after being hit with a fine from the US authorities. We answer five questions on Wegelin’s closure.

Why is Wegelin closing?

The Swiss bank, which was established 35 years before the US declaration of independence, is closing after pleading guilty to charges brought against it by a New York court which has resulted in the bank being hit with a $57.8m (£36m; 44m euros) fine by the US authorities.

It has announced that once the fine is settled the bank will close permanently.

What charges did Weglin plead guilty to?

The bank pleaded guilty to allowing more than 100 American citizens hide $1.2bn from the Internal Revenue Service for almost 10 years.

Originally, the bank said it would fight the charges, declaring that because it only held branches in Switzerland it could be bound only by Swiss laws.

What is the bank's history?

Weglin was established in 1741 and resides in a small town called St Gallen in Switzerland with further offices in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Locarno, Lugano, Chiasso, Schaffhausen, Winterhur, Chur and Lucerne.

It is the first foreign bank to plead guilty to tax evasion in the US.

What have American officials said?

US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The bank wilfully and aggressively jumped in to fill a void that was left when other Swiss banks abandoned the practice due to pressure from US law enforcement."

Adding: "[This is a] watershed moment in our efforts to hold to account both the individuals and the banks - wherever they may be in the world - who are engaging in unlawful conduct that deprives the US Treasury of billions of dollars of tax revenue".

Are other Swiss banks being accused of the same conduct?

Four years ago UBS was accused by the US authorities of tax evasion related charges. Although UBS never pleaded guilty to the charges it did pay the US government a $780m fine in what is known as a "deferred prosecution agreement" whereby a fine is paid and the charges are then dropped. UBS also agreed to reveal US account holder details.

Credit Suisse, another big Swiss bank, also remains under investigation by the US authorities.

It is unknown whether the US authorities will continue with or drop other charges against three Wegelin bankers, Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller.

Swiss bank Wegelin has announced it will close. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.