Zurich - Switzerland gave the go-ahead yesterday to finalise a joint statement with the US that it hopes will bring to an end a long, costly dispute over Swiss banks that have sheltered US tax evaders.
The government said the joint statement signing should enable Swiss banks to resolve the dispute with the US while complying with existing Swiss laws. It gave no further details.
The Swiss government is keen to end the dispute in which US authorities have fined two Swiss banks for helping wealthy Americans evade tax and are investigating another dozen, while many more face probes for similar transgressions.
The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) said the programme would allow Swiss banks to settle any existing legal questions with the US quickly and conclusively, while providing them with a clear legal basis to act.
“The SBA welcomes the positive outcome of the Federal Council’s decision, as this means the final step towards a solution has been taken and the US can now launch the programme,” it said. The SBA said the agreement would also allow the banks to protect their employees to the best possible extent, without providing details.
The deal follows more than two years of negotiations as the Swiss try to resolve a US investigation into at least a dozen banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, that allegedly helped US citizens evade taxes.
Switzerland, whose banks manage a world-leading $2.2 trillion (R23 trillion) in offshore assets, wanted to prevent the indictment of another bank. Wegelin, once the country’s oldest, pleaded guilty in January to helping US taxpayers hide assets. It has since closed its doors.
Wegelin had taken over clients from UBS, which avoided prosecution in 2009 by admitting it aided tax evasion, paying $780 million and handing over client names.
Among its demands, the US wanted lists of possible tax evaders who had shifted accounts between banks, the Swiss government has said.
Yesterday’s announcement comes after parliament voted down a bill in June that would have given banks a year-long legal reprieve and allowed them to settle with the US and hand over information on staff and third parties who worked with Americans in exchange for a fine. It would also have established legal protections for bank employees. - Reuters and Bloomberg