Swiss to let banks give client info to the US

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 4:33am

Switzerland is proposing a change to its banking laws that will let Swiss banks pass on information about US citizens to the United States tax authorities.

The country has been in talks with the US for more than two years to resolve an investigation of at least 14 financial firms that allegedly helped Americans hide money from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Swiss government wants to prevent another bank being indicted after Wegelin & Co pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court in January to conspiring to help conceal more than US$1.2 billion from the IRS.

The proposed bill authorises Swiss banks to co-operate with US authorities and transfer information while safeguarding their interests, the government said yesterday.

The Swiss parliament will consider the bill as early as next week and it could come into force on July 1. "The sense of urgency is because preparations were being made for more banks to be made responsible," said Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

The bill will enable banks to pass on information on business relationships concerning US persons and details on employees who worked with Americans, the government said. It does not allow for the transfer of client data, which can only be passed on through administrative assistance procedures under a tax agreement with the US, it said.

The agreement may lead to total fines of as much as 10 billion Swiss francs (HK$80 billion), Tages-Anzeiger reported.

"The Swiss won't pay anything," Widmer-Schlumpf said. "We haven't got an agreement about the level of a payment."

Two of the four biggest political parties in Parliament said they will oppose the deal.