Swiss expect ‘fairness’ in US tax dispute

Eric Holder and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf will talk over the US-Swiss tax deal Swiss finance ministry/US justice department

Switzerland has demanded “fair and balanced” treatment from the United States in the ongoing tax row between the two countries, following a meeting between Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and the US Justice Minister Eric Holder.

This content was published on May 3, 2014 minutes and agencies

The two met in Washington on Friday to discuss how to move forward in the dispute. A finance ministry statement said Switzerland expects the US to act “in accordance with the principle of proportionality in order to prevent Swiss banks from being treated worse than other banks.”

The statement added that talks focused on clearing up issues with banks that are not under active criminal investigation – the so-called category 2, 3 and 4 banks. A programme agreed between the two countries in August that covers more than 100 banks in these categories “is going according to plan”, the finance ministry said.

Numerous press reports had speculated that Widmer-Schlumpf and Holder would attempt to thrash out a deal for Credit Suisse, the largest of the dozen or so Swiss banks that currently face potential criminal prosecution. But the finance ministry refused to comment on any of these category 1 proceedings.

Tax deal

Credit Suisse also declined to comment on the Washington talks, but did make mention of the dispute in its first quarter results presentation on Friday.

“The United States Department of Justice’s investigation into the US tax matter remains outstanding and, while we are working hard to bring this to a close, the timing and outcome remain uncertain," the company’s chairman of the board, Urs Rohner, and the CEO, Brady Dougan, said in the results report. 

Criminal proceedings against a bank such as Credit Suisse, which is in the first group of banks under the terms of the Swiss-US tax deal signed in 2013, would go against current practice in the dispute.

The deal between the two countries should allow for such a bank to negotiate an arrangement with the DoJ.

Banks could sign up to be part of the tax deal by the end of 2013, and had to choose one of four categories to be listed under. Banks in Group 4 claimed to have very limited exposure to foreign clients, whereas Group 1 included banks that were already under active investigation for suspected tax evasion offences.

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