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

Photo:Getty
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.