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"If you can't trust a Swiss banker, then what's the world come to?"

No self-respecting big-money criminal would stash his loot in anything but a legendarily secretive Swiss bank account. In the hands of particularly lazy thriller writers, a non-swiss character merely possessing a Swiss bank account is proof positive that a person is up to no good.

In more recent stories, an account in an offshore tax haven, such as the Cayman Islands, may be substituted.

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In real life, the usefulness of these numbered accounts is limited, due to how hard it is to get one nowadays. The Swiss, well aware of their banks' increasing reputation as havens for no-good-niks (not particularly helped by their willingness to stash Nazi Gold, though they were originally formed to help people hide money from the Gestapo), require numerous references and a general OK from the person's country of origin. You can certainly get an account with a Swiss Bank - although if you're a foreign national, the bank will take a copy of your residence permit and passport details - but it will just be a regular bank account in Switzerland, not this trope. Some of the original anonymous accounts that gave rise to this trope do apparently still exist, but under current regulations they cannot be transferred to other people, so - eventually - every one of them will be closed.

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In any case, truly anonymous bank accounts are a thing of fiction. Even if protected by a code number, the identity of the client (and usually the source of the funds as well) is known by the chairman and high-ranking personnel of the bank, either in Switzerland or other tax havens. Money laundering and stashing of dubious funds are the province of professional accountants, finance experts, and (of course) lawyers, who know how to give a decent face to the business they manage. Don't try to just approach a bank with a Briefcase Full of Money and no plausible story and expect it to work.note 

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Despite the name of the trope, any work that uses an offshore account as a point of interest to the audience coming from any country can qualify. Heck, the country itself doesn't have to be mentioned, and it can even be a Fictional Province.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Golgo 13: A Smug Snake villain figures out how to use the very existence of the assassin protagonist's Swiss bank accounts and the fantastic sum that must be in them to run an international scam.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Tintin adventure Flight 714, there is an amoral corporate executive who is abducted so the villain can obtain the details of his Swiss bank account.
  • In the Asterix adventure Asterix in Switzerland, Petitsuix opens a Helvetian bank account and stashes Asterix and Obelix in a safe to hide them from the Romans. They get hungry in the middle of the night and, since the safe wasn't meant to be opened from inside, Obelix simply kicks the door off its hinges. The bank's owner, Zurix, has the Gauls moved to someone else's safe. That someone else turns out to be the Roman centurion who comes searching for the Gauls, finds the broken safe and questions the bank's security (while sheepishly justifying why he has such an account to his men).

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • In the film version of The Bourne Identity, the amnesiac hero starts out with no clue to his identity except the details of a Swiss bank account.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me. After the two scientists complete the submarine tracking system, Stromberg transfers $10 million into their Swiss bank accounts. He then kills them, and cancels the transfers.
  • The Spanish Prisoner.
    Jimmy Dell: You now have a Swiss bank account if anybody asks. Credit Nationale Du Geneve, code name 'PADDY'. Lavish awkward gesture. All of fifteen Swiss Francs in it, but if you ever want to impress anybody, they can find out you have a Swiss account. But, Swiss law prohibits the bank from revealing the balance. Thus are all men made equal.
  • The Order. The character Ben Nur has one.
  • General M. Bison from the Street Fighter movie has one, which he wants the $20,000,000,000 ransom wired to.
  • Fun with Dick and Jane: The local bad guy has stashed all his plundered money in an account like this (it's never mentioned what country it belongs to).
  • A group of mercenaries are being briefed in the comedy Water:
    French agent: This is a dangerous mission, and some of you will die. But remember, in a world gone mad, you will die for a principle that you all hold close to your heart. Money!
    Mercenaries: Viva franc! Viva deutschmark! Viva dollar! Viva numbered bank account in Switzerland!
  • At the end of F/X: Murder by Illusion, Rollie and Leo use Rollie's special effects makeup expertise (and the stolen account information) to drain Nick DeFranco's Swiss bank account of nearly ten million dollars before the Swiss bankers find out that Nick has been killed.
  • In the film Samurai Cop, the villian Fujiyama is accused of being a 'death merchant' who deposits his vast riches into a Swiss account
  • Implied in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. When Holmes and Moriarty have a discussion about Moriarty's assets, Moriarty claims that he's rather fond of Switzerland. They know how to respect a man's privacy there, especially when he has a large personal fortune.
  • Where Sebastian Shaw keeps his ill-gotten gains in X-Men: First Class.
  • Subverted in The Last Stand. The Big Bad is fond of bribing cops to get his way. When it's suspected that he's done so, the FBI chief has his department investigated, easily tracks down the one bribed through a Swiss bank account, and even chastises said mole for thinking it was beyond their reach.
  • In The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Thomas deposits a large pile of small bills in Switzerland after the bank heist in Boston. Investigator Vicky observes that the Swiss are "notoriously casual about certain formalities," like searching airline baggage.
  • In Munich, Avner opens these for his mission to assassinate the Black September leadership. He and each of the men on his team gets one to hold their accumulated salary, and the other receives $250,000 for operational expenses. The Mossad accountant sternly tells him to keep receipts to justify using the unlimited funds. He left out the bit where Mossad has the authority to remove the funds from their accounts, which they do after the protagonist decides to quit.
  • The Day of the Jackal: The titular Jackal has a bank account in Switzerland where the OAS is to deposit the money they're paying him to assassinate President de Gaulle.
  • Casino Royale has a minor example of this. The $100 million pot for the winnings of the poker tournament is held by a Swiss bank, with Herr Buchard as the account manager. Rather than a secret, numbered account, it is simply an escrow account, where all the player's buy-ins are held, with the bank itself presumably chosen because it's impartial and secure.

    Literature 
  • In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, the amnesiac hero starts out with no clue to his identity except the details of a Swiss bank account. This doesn't ultimately turn out to be a sign that he was a villain, but he did have something to hide.
  • Robert Ludlum, again, plays with the lazy version of the trope in The Ostermann Weekend. The protagonist discovers that a man who may be a foreign spy has a Swiss bank account, and considers this to be Evidence, but it turns out that the man is innocent, and his response to being accused of having a Swiss bank account is basically, "Yes, I do. What's your point?"
  • Artemis Fowl has several Swiss Bank Accounts, though probably not as many as when he was still (moderately) evil. A couple of villains (most noteably in The Eternity Code) also had Swiss Bank Accounts, ripe for Artemis to dig his fingers into.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • In Rainbow Six, Dmitri Popov sets up a Swiss Bank Account for the terrorists he's hired, as a secure way to transfer their payment to them. Once it becomes obvious that they're going to fail at the mission, he transfers all the money to an account he set up for himself.
    • In Clear and Present Danger, the mystique of this trope is bluntly deconstructed, not only because the Cartel having their drug accounts in Swiss banks does nothing to protect them from seizure once their illegality is discovered, but it's explicitly pointed out the only thing that makes the banks more secure is that fact the countries they reside in weren't invaded as much, giving the illusion of security.
  • In The Da Vinci Code, one of the clues to the Holy Grail is held in a Swiss bank. Though with the account being held over several centuries and the bank manager going to frankly illegal lengths to keep the main characters safe from the police after their visit, it has more of the feel of a Binding Ancient Treaty than anything that could be considered a normal banking relationship.
  • In the Stephen King short story "The Deathroom", the protagonist thinks that "in the end there might only be one way to tell the thugs from the patriots: when they saw their own death rising in your eyes like water, patriots made speeches. The thugs, on the other hand, gave you the number of their Swiss bank account and offered to put you on-line."
  • People in the various John Grisham novels prefer accounts in the Grand Caymans to accounts in Switzerland. Even the good guys do their banking there.
  • In The Dogs of War a Corrupt Corporate Executive is buying shares from an eccentric heiress and is cautioned by the Swiss banker not to put his bank's name on the cheque as little old ladies tend to think of Swiss banks accounts as fulfilling this trope.
  • Subverted in MARZENA: while undergoing a Journey to the Center of the Mind to steal the banking information of some criminal crook who goes by the alias of Dr. Sam, we find out the hard way that he doesn't have a Bank Account in Zurich, although Kristen and Lauren seemed to think that he did.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel The Night of Morningstar, it's mentioning in passing that all the members of the terrorist group are getting their cut paid into Swiss bank accounts.
  • On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett. Ross Perot and his executives are approached by a shady character who offers to get their colleagues out of an Iranian prison in exchange for a considerable amount of money to be paid into an escrow account (meaning the money isn't handed over till after the deal). After debating the matter, they decide to refuse because they suspect they're being set up for a bribery charge.
  • One figures into the plot of Fatherland as the hiding place of documents providing evidence of the (long ago completed) Holocaust. The original purpose of such accounts is also touched upon - the Gestapo is said to be particularly suspicious of people with them.
  • In Death: Chief Simpson uses one to hide his illegal transactions.
  • In A College of Magics, one of the minor antagonists turns out to have embezzled a lot of money and stashed it in a bank account in Zurich.
  • Mindstar Rising, by Peter F. Hamilton. The heiress Julia Evans gets the bank records of someone who's plotting against her company by buying the entire bank! She points out that it's actually a good investment.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Villain Protagonist of Kessler has a Swiss bank account containing wealth looted from occupied Europe during WW2, and gaining access to these funds is a source of tension with his fellow Nazis, between the younger members who want to fund a neo-Nazi resurgence and the older generation who just want to live comfortably in exile.
  • In The Pretender, episode "Collateral Damage", Jarod hacks into the villain of the week's Swiss bank account to confirm that he's been receiving payoffs from a drug cartel.
  • Burn Notice
    • Episode "Friends and Enemies":
      Michael Westen: Who do you work for?
      Gregory Hart: I work for an 11-digit Swiss bank account number, and an anonymous email address.
    • Michael's friend Barry specializes in setting those up and using them to launder money for criminals and spies.
    • In one episode a government agent is trying to bully Michael so he has Barry set up an offshore account in the agent's name. They then move the same few thousand dollars in and out of the account repeatedly to make it seem like the agent is receiving payoffs through the account. Michael then blackmails the agent with this to have him back off.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "the Council" episode, the mobsters are using a swiss bank account.
  • In the Human Target Season 2 premiere Ilsa (a a good person) has a vault in a Swiss bank which can only be entered with retina scans of both Ilsa and her late husband; the bad guy uses her (in a hostage situation) and her dead husband's eyeball, removed from his body to get in to steal their billions. In another episode she transfers a couple mil from her Swiss bank to a local bank specifically in order to draw out some Dirty Cops who were looking for her; in that same episode the main bad guy has an offshore bank account in Barbados where he stores his ill-gotten gains.
  • An episode of Murphy Brown had a millionaire fall in love with Murphy and shower her with expensive gifts to try to get her to marry him, until he flat out tries to bribe her with a large check. She says no, the guy finally relents...and proposes to Kay, who immediately accepts. When Murphy is horrified and calls Kay out on this, her response is, "Don't worry. I'll have this money in my Cayman Islands account before we're within miles of an altar." (Because Status Quo Is God the guy divorces her and takes back the money.)
  • The unsophisticated drug lord Marlo Stanfield from The Wire has to be introduced to this trope (Antillean off-shore version) and even then he decides to visit the bank in person to verify that his money is actually there.
  • In a Saturday Night Live sketch, Steve Martin lists his top wishes, including $30 million a month deposited directly into his Swiss bank account.
  • Farscape give us Shadow Depositories; privately-held banks that service the criminal scum of the Uncharted Territories. Their security measures are every bit as good as the top secret, maximum security military bases of any of the warring stellar nations.
  • There's one in Smiley's People, the TV adaptation of the spy novel series The Quest for Karla.
  • Daredevil (2015): In season 3, Wilson Fisk is laundering his money through shell companies that are supposedly based in other countries and have charters to do business in the United States that were filed by his lawyers. Red Lion National Bank, the bank which moves his money around, also is mentioned to have a branch in the Caymans.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Mariah Dillard is using Caymans banks to move the proceeds from a shady stock deal she makes with Piranha Jones at the start of season 2.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the board game Attorneys at Flaw [1], stashing your money in a Swiss bank account makes it safe from being lost if you bungle a lawsuit — but the win condition is accumulating a million dollars in cash on hand, and Swiss bank money doesn't count.
  • Champions adventure Red Doom. When Colonel Vasalov hires some supervillains to attack the heroes, he promises to pay each of them with $100,000 in a Swiss bank account.
  • In the D&D setting Eberron, House Kundarak fills this role, a Dragonmarked House of dwarven bankers from a mountainous country who will give anyone who can afford it a high-security vault.
  • In the game Junta, the object is to divert as much money as possible into your family's Swiss bank account.

    Theatre 
  • In Evita, the corrupt government's lavish spending is explained in the song "And The Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)", which is all about Eva's charity work until the last verse:
    If the money keeps rolling in what's a girl to do?
    Cream a little off the top for expenses—wouldn't you?
    But where on Earth can people hide their little piece of Heaven?
    Thank God for Switzerland
    Where a girl and a guy with a little petty cash between them
    Can be sure when they deposit no-one's seen them
    Oh what bliss to sign your checks as three-o-one-two-seven
    Never been accounts in the name of Eva Peron!

    Video Games 
  • In Mega Man 9, the villainous Dr Wily is revealed to have a Swiss bank account with the account number 19-871-217 (a shout-out to the original game, released on 1987-12-17).
  • Druglord: The player-character's bank is supposed to be a Swiss bank.
  • In the game Tropico, one of the scoring metrics is how much money you can embezzle into your Swiss bank account. El Presidente can earn funds through the Building Permit edict (which increases all building costs by 20% to earn 10% of the cost), setting childhood museums to "Retirement Fund" mode, setting the customs office to "Customs Duty Evasion" (which requires paying customs officers $25 each to keep quiet), setting banks to "Slush Fund" mode (which only works while the treasury is positive), turning ruins into excavation sites, and building the mausoleum. Until the Modern Times expansion, there was no use for the Swiss account. In Modern Times, a minimum Swiss bank balance is required to upgrade the palace to a presidency and set water treatment plants, sanatoria, and SWAT HQs to "Happy Powder," "Psych Ward," and "Personal Death Squad" modes.
  • In Day of the Tentacle, Dr. Edison has a Swiss Bank account that's almost completely depleted. One of the more significant puzzles in the game requires you to get access to the account through trickery, then find a way to get a lot of money into it, so that you can use the money to buy a really big diamond.
  • The man pulling the strings in The Outfoxies offers Swiss Francs for all contracts fulfilled.
  • 80% of your loot in PAYDAY 2 goes into an "offshore account." It can only be used to purchase contracts (rather than waiting for them to become available or joining another player's game), go infamous (the first five ranks costs $200M), and bet in "Offshore Paydays" for additional loot drops.
  • It's revealed in Metal Gear Solid 3 that the Allies (plus China) pooled their funds together for the war effort in World War II and kept them hidden in various locations around the world with Switzerland being one of them.

    Webcomics 
  • Early on in Sluggy Freelance, Bun-Bun makes a killing by setting up a viagra trade in Tijuana, and has his profits stored in Switzerland.

    Western Animation 
  • G.I. Joe
    • Firefly mentions having a Swiss account in the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Eau de Cobra".
    • In the G.I. Joe Extreme episode "Chips and a Cold, Cold Drink", Rampage mentions he'll transfer the money he got from a deal to his Swiss bank account.
  • The Cayman Islands version appears in The Simpsons, "Bart the Fink":
    Cayman Islands guy: (on phone) I'm sorry, I can't divulge information about that customer's secret illegal account.
    (hangs up)
    Oh, Crap! I shouldn't have said he was a customer.
    Oh, Crap! I shouldn't have said it was a secret.
    Oh, Crap! I certainly shouldn't have said it was illegal.
    (sighs)
    It's too hot today.
  • Biker Mice from Mars has made reference to a "Swiss Cheese account" on two occasions.
    • The episode "Pitfall" has the series' main antagonist Lawrence Limburger and lawyer Perry Provoloni attempt to blackmail their Plutarkian leader Lord Camembert with proof that he is hiding embezzled funds in his Swiss Cheese account.
    • The three-part Origins Episode "Once Upon a Time on Mars" has Limburger use forged release notes for his former superior Dominic T. Stilton's Swiss Cheese account to bribe the Martian government into allowing Plutark to invade Mars.
  • In an early episode of Family Guy, when the Griffins inherit a huge mansion, Peter fully adopts a snooty rich attitude and mentions he has one of these. Lois tells him he doesn't, and he tells his conversation partners that he’s keeping it secret from Lois in case things don't work out.
  • In the Thanksgiving episode of Regular Show, Rich Buckner attempts to use the golden wishbone of a turducken bred only once every million years to wish for the rights to Thanksgiving as well as a large sum of money hidden in an untraceable Swiss bank account.
  • Miles Mayhem, leader of V.E.N.O.M., is said to have a Swiss bank account in the M.A.S.K. episode "Bad Vibrations".
  • In the Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles episode "Genesis Undone", Dr. Anton Sevarius attempts to trick Thailog into injecting himself with the clone virus at an advanced stage by claiming that he'll give him the cure if he sends him a large amount of money through his Swiss account.
  • In Central Park, Season 1 "Dog Spray Afternoon", Paige discovers that the companies that are buying the mayor's real estate is actually just one company and they originated in Panama. Marvin tells her that it's impossible to find out who owns a Panamanian shell corporation because it's a very long process to have the information revealed. Paige would have waited six months to have a vague idea on who's behind it if it wasn't for Birdie blurting out that Bitsy is the one who owns the corporation.

    Real Life 
  • The late Nigerian military dictator, Sani Abacha, had a huge stash of money hidden in a secret Swiss bank account.
  • Palestine nationalist leader Yasser Arafat had one as well.
  • After he was forced out of power, Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet was revealed to have embezzled tens of millions of public funds in Swiss bank accounts. This made most of his remaining supporters turn against him.
  • Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street fame got done in this way. Steve Madden was a designer of women's shoes, and a childhood friend of Jordan Belfort's business partner Danny Porush. In 1993, Belfort and Proush's brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont took Madden's shoe company public. Thing is, Belfort, Porush and Madden owned the majority of the company's shares, which was a severe violation of federal law. When the Strattonites drove up the value of the stock, they got rich in the process. In order to hide his ill-gotten gains, Belfort smuggled cash to a Swiss bank. He disguised them under the name of an aunt of his wife Nadine, by convincing them he just wished to avoid paying taxes. How he smuggled the money was through his drug dealer Todd Garrett, whose wife conveniently happened to hold Swiss citizenship. Belfort was able to convince her and her family to hide the money in their luggage. They ultimately smuggled over $3 million into Swiss bank accounts before Belfort was busted by the FBI. To get a lighter sentence, Jordan agreed to wear a wire and rat out his friends and colleagues.


 
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Panamanian Shell Corp

Paige discovers the companies that are buying the mayor's real estate is actually just one company and they originated in Panama. Marvin tells her that it's impossible to find out who owns a Panamanian shell corporation because the process to have the information revealed is very long. Paige would have waited six months to have a vague idea on who's behind it if it wasn't for Birdie blurting out that Bitsy is the one who owns the corporation.

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