Bloomberg -- Switzerland said it has agreed to a draft plan with the U.S. for the country’s banks to settle a tax-evasion dispute after years of diplomatic wrangling.
The Swiss Finance Ministry has been instructed to complete work on a joint statement with the U.S., the Bern-based government said in a statement today. “As soon as the joint statement has been signed with the United States, the text of the document will be published,” the government said.
The agreement is the result of more than two years of negotiations over U.S. probes of at least a dozen banks, including Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd., which allegedly helped Americans evade taxes. While some of those banks are already in settlement talks, the U.S. wants to widen its investigation by forcing other Swiss wealth managers to disclose information on cross-border accounts.
“The program enables all banks in Switzerland to settle their U.S. past quickly and conclusively and creates the necessary legal certainty,” the Basel-based Swiss Bankers Association said in a statement today.
Switzerland, the world’s largest offshore financial center with $2.2 trillion of assets, wants to prevent the indictment of another bank. Wegelin & Co., the country’s oldest bank, was indicted last year and pleaded guilty in January to helping U.S. taxpayers hide assets. It has since closed its doors.
Wegelin had taken over clients from UBS AG, which avoided prosecution in 2009 by admitting it aided tax evasion, paying $780 million and handing over client names.
The U.S. wants lists of suspected tax evaders who shifted accounts from one bank to another, the Swiss government has said.
Credit Suisse, Julius Baer and HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss private bank have said they expect to pay a fine to settle their disputes with the U.S. Today’s announcement doesn’t affect HSBC as it’s already under investigation, according to David Bruegger, a Zurich-based spokesman for the bank.
“We are continuing our discussions,” he said. “We are in close contact with the authorities and will stay in touch until a solution found.”
The announcement comes after the Swiss Parliament in June rejected a bill that would have given banks a yearlong legal reprieve and allowed them to settle with the U.S. by handing over information on employees and third parties who worked with American clients. It would also have established legal protection for bank employees.
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