Is Swiss banking a criminal enterprise?


It doesn't take much imagination to see that banking could be a bit of a scam on the public. But to keep that scam going it takes big buildings, plush offices, corporate jets, complex product names . . . and a veil of secrecy. Secrecy is important because without it, the mystique is lost. And by mystique, we're sometimes talking about illegal money-making schemes.

That's what Switzerland's premier bank, UBS AG (UBS), got caught running. And after forking over $780 million to U.S. authorities, it will have made only a small down payment on its penalties owed to society. How so? UBS is going to turn over the names of its clients to the U.S., which marks the end of a centuries-old franchise for Switzerland -- the inviolate secrecy of the Swiss bank account.