U.S. looks to turn the screw in Swiss banks talks

Thu Aug 22, 2013 11:00am EDT
 
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By Martin de Sa'Pinto, Katharina Bart and Patrick Temple-West

ZURICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pushing Switzerland for a deal to settle a long-running dispute over banks that shelter tax evaders, a Swiss government source said on Thursday, ratcheting up the pressure after parliament rejected an accord in June.

With many Swiss banks under U.S. investigation for helping American clients dodge taxes, the government is anxious to secure an agreement that satisfies U.S. demands for data to help catch the tax cheats but also wants to preserve at least some elements of its cherished tradition of banking secrecy, which has long been a key part of the Alpine nation's allure for depositors.

Two months ago the Swiss parliament voted down a law that would have eased the transfer of client data for the entire industry, angering the United States and raising fears in Switzerland of further indictments.

The United States has since tightened its negotiating terms, the Swiss government source said. He declined to give details except to say that the stiffer terms did not include higher fines for culpable banks.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice in Washington declined to comment.

Roughly a dozen banks are under U.S. investigation, including Credit Suisse CSGN.VX, Julius Baer BAER.VX, the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote), privately held Pictet and state-backed regional banks Zuercher Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank (BSKP.S: Quote).

The Swiss government has said it will grant these banks permission to hand over data to the U.S. that will allow them to avoid charges as they cut individual deals.

But as the two governments wrangle over the terms of an over-arching accord, Swiss banks not yet under investigation find themselves in a legal limbo, prolonging a scandal that has already cost the sector billions of francs in withdrawals.   Continued...

 
The logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse is seen at his headquarters at the Paradeplatz square in Zurich July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann