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Legal assistance US continues hunt for tax dodgers in Swiss banks

Switzerland's oldest private bank says it will provide bank data to the US

(Keystone)

The United States tax authorities have filed a request for legal assistance to identify former American clients of the private bank Wegelin who are suspected of tax dodging. It is the fourth such request against a Swiss financial institute.

Wegelin, which announced at the beginning of this year it would close its doors, on Friday confirmed reports that it had received notification by Switzerland’s Federal Tax Authorities to comply with the US request, based on a 1996 double taxation agreement.

A bank official added that Wegelin would submit the necessary information.

The request focuses on former Wegelin clients who were listed as beneficiaries of asset management companies between 2002 and 2012 and are suspected of fiscal fraud, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Friday.

The Federal Tax Administration declined to confirm the report or give further information.

Wegelin technically still exists but sold its non-US business and pleaded guilty to charges of helping wealthy American clients evade taxes.

It is the fourth such demand against Swiss banks. The country’s two main banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have also faced requests against a particular group of clients over the past few years.

Two weeks ago, the private bank Julius Baer was also notified that it was subject of a similar request by Washington.

Experts point out that further queries by the US will follow, targeting about ten other Swiss banks under legal investigations.

Banking deal

Parliament is currently debating a law allowing banks to provide information to the US justice department without breaking Swiss banking secrecy rules.

The Senate approved the controversial draft law on Wednesday, but the House of Representatives is to discuss the issue next week.

However, the requests for Julius Baer and Wegelin are separate from the bill, according to observers.

The US government agency for tax collection and tax law enforcement has been the driving force behind the legal enquiries, while the US justice department has now taken over the settlement with Swiss banks suspected of violating US law.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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