Switzerland, U.S. consider solution to tax dispute

Wed Apr 17, 2013 12:06pm EDT
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By Emma Thomasson and Katharina Bart

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss and U.S. governments are considering a possible solution to a long-running dispute over Swiss banks accused of helping wealthy Americans evade billions of dollars of tax.

A source familiar with the talks has told Reuters the two sides have agreed an outline for a deal that would divide over 300 Swiss banks according to the extent to which they had helped U.S. clients hide money, to determine how they are dealt with.

A Swiss government spokesman said on Wednesday the cabinet had been informed about a solution to the dispute. He declined to give further details as the negotiations are ongoing.

A senior U.S. government source involved in the Swiss banking cases confirmed a proposal was being circulated.

Bank secrecy, which has helped Switzerland become the world's largest offshore centre with $2 trillion in assets, has come under heavy fire since the financial crisis as cash-strapped governments have sought to clamp down on tax evasion.

Tax evasion has dominated global headlines in recent weeks following the admission by a disgraced former French minister that he held a Swiss account and the recent leak of thousands of holders of secret bank accounts worldwide.

The Swiss government has been in protracted talks to end U.S. investigations into Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse CSGN.VX and Julius Baer BAER.VX, in return for expected heavy fines and a transfer of client names.

On Tuesday, U.S. authorities charged a Swiss banker and a Swiss attorney with helping American clients hide millions of dollars in offshore accounts to evade taxes.   Continued...

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf gestures during a news conference after the weekly meeting of the Federal Council in Bern February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener