Swiss brace themselves for lengthy negotiations over U.S. tax deal

Sun Aug 5, 2012 11:10am EDT
 
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ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government is bracing itself for protracted negotiations with the United States over undeclared funds stowed by U.S. citizens in Swiss offshore bank accounts, President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

"Constant new demands" made by U.S. justice officials are the main stumbling block, said Widmer-Schlumpf, who is also Switzerland's finance minister, in an interview published in weekend editions of a number of Swiss regional newspapers.

The two countries have for years been locked in a conflict over the fact that wealthy Americans are dodging taxes by hiding money in Swiss accounts. Washington is pressuring banks in Switzerland to divulge their names and financial details.

"If Switzerland would simply agree to what the United States is asking, a global solution (for all Swiss banks concerned) would be by found tomorrow," Widmer-Schlumpf said without indicating how long it would take to reach such a deal.

Eleven Swiss banks including Credit Suisse CSGN.VX and Julius Baer BAER.VX are under investigation in the United States for aiding U.S. citizens who are suspected of dodging their taxes. Credit Suisse said on Friday that the United States had submitted a fresh request for information on former clients of the bank, after an earlier attempt was blocked by a Swiss court.

Widmer-Schlumpf has said she wants to close negotiations to settle the long-simmering tax dispute before the U.S. elections in November.

But on Friday, Switzerland's chief diplomat Michael Ambuehl said in an interview with NZZ newspaper that while a deal should still be reached by then, this should not come "at any price".

Switzerland wants the investigations dropped, in exchange for payment of fines and the transfer of names of thousands of U.S. bank clients. It also wants a deal to shield the remainder of its 300 or so banks from U.S. prosecution.

In 2009, Swiss authorities reached a deal for UBS UBSN.VX to pay a fine of $780 million to avert criminal charges, and ultimately agreed to allow the bank to reveal details of around 4,450 clients.

Switzerland also agreed in July to do more to help other countries hunt tax-dodgers following demands from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

(Reporting by Andrew Thompson; Editing by Catherine Evans)

 
Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf awaits the start of the men's singles tennis gold medal match between Britain's Andy Murray and Switzerland's Roger Federer at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 5, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth