The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

No transparency on gold imports into Switzerland

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 16 November 2023

The figures for Switzerland’s gold imports remain secret. On Wednesday, the Federal Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). The STP wanted to create transparency about this trade, in which Switzerland plays a role as a hub.

No transparency on gold imports into Switzerland
In the gold store of Cantonal Bank of Zurich ZKB in Zurich, Switzerland

The first public law division reached its decision with a majority of four judges against one judge. Like the Federal Administrative Court last year, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the data of four important companies operating in this sector, including the country of export, is covered by tax secrecy.

The majority of the judges recalled that tax secrecy is qualified and therefore an explicit legal basis for a derogation is required. The Transparency Act (BGÖ), to which the Society for Threatened Peoples refers, is not sufficient in this respect.

Even if the import of gold is not subject to VAT, the data is collected by the Federal Office for Customs and Border Protection (FOCP) and forwarded to the Federal Tax Administration.

A matter for parliament

During the revision of the VAT Act in 2008, the legislator failed to harmonize the law with the Federal Act on Value Added Tax, the court emphasized. As a result, the Federal Supreme Court cannot interpret these texts in the sense desired by the complainant. The appellant would have to appeal to Parliament if it wanted to create transparency regarding gold trading in Switzerland.

The majority of the College also rejected the proposal of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC). The latter had suggested that the names of the importing companies should be blacked out in the version that was sent to the Society for Threatened Peoples. According to the judges, this measure would not be sufficient to safeguard tax confidentiality, as only four easily identifiable companies are affected.

For his part, the losing judge was of the opinion that the argument of tax secrecy was far-fetched in view of the lack of taxation. He also recalled that the route taken by the complainant via the Federal Supreme Court was not abusive.

Although this text aims to control the activities of the state, it is not an independent entity that does not have any relations with society, private individuals and companies. It was therefore inevitable that data concerning the latter would be passed on in this way.

Big disappointment

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) noted the Federal Supreme Court’s decision with “great disappointment”. By rejecting the STP’s request to disclose the gold suppliers of the gold refineries, the Federal Supreme Court is protecting trade secrets in an absurd manner, according to a press release. Transparency from the producer to the consumer would be essential to put a stop to dirty business, the organization states.

The Society for Threatened Peoples had requested the figures for gold imports into Switzerland for the years 2014 to 2017 from the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security. It was interested in the data from seven companies, including two banks.

Following mediation by the FDPIC, the Office agreed. However, the companies Argor-Heraeus, Metalor Technologies, MKS and Valcambi lodged an appeal with the Federal Administrative Court. The latter upheld their appeal. It was of the opinion that the figures on gold imports were subject to tax secrecy, as they were also used to calculate VAT.

©Keystone/SDA

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