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Swiss banks put under pressure from US

Switzerland is preparing to send information about alleged tax cheats to the United States, a Swiss newspaper claimed on Friday, without naming its source.

The German-language Tages-Anzeiger says there was a “secret meeting” last week between the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) and the “core group” of 11 Swiss banks currently in the sights of the US tax authorities.

The banks were allegedly told to put together the files of their US clients. A first batch of data is to be sent at the end of October, with several thousand more to follow in the middle of November, the paper says.

An SIF spokesman refused to comment on the report. He told the paper only that discussions with the US were still underway.

“Requests for administrative assistance on the issue are evidently expected to be submitted by the Americans shortly,” the paper says. “The aim of a partial handover is above all that Credit Suisse should for the moment avoid an indictment in the US.”   

The US Department of Justice launched a formal investigation into the activities of Credit Suisse in July.

Apart from Credit Suisse, the banks in question include Julius Bär, Zürich Cantonal Bank, Basel Cantonal Bank and Wegelin. The US authorities suspect them of offering a haven to clients who had held money in Switzerland’s biggest bank, UBS, which was forced by the US authorities to pay a heavy fine and hand over thousands of names.

In the wake of the UBS affair, a double taxation agreement was reached between Switzerland and the US, under which the Swiss are obliged to supply details of bank clients suspected of tax fraud.

The two sides are currently discussing a new agreement, which will give the US side easier access to Swiss bank client data. The Swiss parliament last month delayed discussion of this until December. At stake is the cherished tradition of banking secrecy.

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