Government won't target more Swiss banks on tax: U.S. diplomat

Sat Jul 24, 2010 3:40pm EDT
 
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ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States, which targeted Swiss bank giant UBS in a damaging tax fraud probe last year, is not planning to carry out new tax investigations against Swiss banks, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland said.

Asked whether he envisaged new probes after the Swiss parliament ratified a Swiss-U.S. deal in June that put an end to the UBS tax saga, Donald Beyer told Swiss newspaper Le Temps on Saturday he was not aware of any new probe.

"To my knowledge no such thing is planned," Beyer, who became the top U.S. diplomat in Berne last year, was quoted as saying by the Swiss paper.

"The American government appreciates the good faith which Switzerland has shown during the ratification of the accord and its efforts to rid itself of its past as tax haven."

UBS agreed to pay $780 million in February 2009 and shared confidential bank data of about 280 of its clients to settle tax fraud criminal charges. Later that year Berne agreed to hand over to Washington bank data related to a further 4,450 clients of UBS, piercing a hole into Swiss bank secrecy laws.

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to go aggressively after U.S. citizens who have hidden assets abroad.

In February, top Justice Department lawyer Kevin Downing, who handled the UBS inquiry, said U.S. tax prosecutors were examining more than 7,000 accounts from foreign banks beyond UBS, leading to expectations a new tax probe could materialize soon.

Beyer said Swiss officials were these days more concerned with the newly approved Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), a U.S. bill adopted in March that will force non-U.S. banks to automatically share a vast amount of information regarding the bank dealings of their U.S. clients.

"In reality, the greatest fear of my Swiss interlocutors concern the FATCA law," Beyer said.

"They fear that conforming with it will lead to prohibitive costs. We are doing our best to allay these fears."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Lisa Jucca in Zurich)