Swiss set limits to US demands on banking secrecy

The United States authorities are delaying the resolution of a tax dispute with Switzerland by introducing new demands into the negotiations, according to Swiss President and Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

A line needed to be drawn under the past and any compromises had to be compatible with Swiss law, she said to the Swiss press.

The Swiss government wants US tax investigations against 11 banks to be dropped in exchange for the payment of fines and a transfer of client names.

However, the Swiss authorities fear that any deal reached over these banks would only encourage more demands from the US over the rest of Switzerland’s 300 banks.

The Swiss government wants a deal with the US that would end ad hoc requests for further information. Widmer-Schlumpf said: “If Switzerland would simply agree to what the United States is asking, a global solution (for all Swiss banks concerned) would be by found tomorrow.”

Michael Ambühl, a Swiss diplomat involved in the negotiations, indicated a deal would be struck by the end of the year but not “at any price”. US elections are due this November.

In October 2008, France and Germany claimed Switzerland was helping foreign tax evaders to hide their assets. In February 2009, UBS was fined $780m after admitting helping US citizens evade US taxes, and agreed to hand over the names and other details of 4,450 of its US clients.

Since then, the US authorities have widened their investigations to include 11 other Swiss banks in a campaign that has stirred resentment among the Swiss about its extra-territorial nature.

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