* U.S. investigators pursuing banks like Credit Suisse,
* Source says outlines of deal reached, talks continue
* UBS already paid $780 mln fine in 2009
* Tax evasion in headlines over French minister, "offshore
* Germany makes raids after buys leaked bank data
By Emma Thomasson and Katharina Bart
ZURICH, April 17 The Swiss and U.S. governments
are considering a possible solution to a long-running dispute
over Swiss banks accused of helping wealthy Americans evade
billions of dollars of tax.
A source familiar with the talks has told Reuters the two
sides have agreed an outline for a deal that would divide over
300 Swiss banks according to the extent to which they had helped
U.S. clients hide money, to determine how they are dealt with.
A Swiss government spokesman said on Wednesday the cabinet
had been informed about a solution to the dispute. He declined
to give further details as the negotiations are ongoing.
A senior U.S. government source involved in the Swiss
banking cases confirmed a proposal was being circulated.
Bank secrecy, which has helped Switzerland become the
world's largest offshore centre with $2 trillion in assets, has
come under heavy fire since the financial crisis as
cash-strapped governments have sought to clamp down on tax
Tax evasion has dominated global headlines in recent weeks
following the admission by a disgraced former French minister
that he held a Swiss account and the recent leak of thousands of
holders of secret bank accounts worldwide.
The Swiss government has been in protracted talks to end
U.S. investigations into Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse
and Julius Baer, in return for expected
heavy fines and a transfer of client names.
On Tuesday, U.S. authorities charged a Swiss banker and a
Swiss attorney with helping American clients hide millions of
dollars in offshore accounts to evade taxes.
Zurich-based Bank Frey confirmed on Wednesday that it was
named in the indictment along with its head of private banking
Stefan Buck, who was charged with one count of conspiracy.
"Bank Frey emphasizes that the defendant is presumed
innocent unless and until proven guilty," it said in a
statement, adding it was reviewing its legal situation before
Attorney Edgar Paltzer of Swiss law firm Niederer Kraft &
Frey (NKF) was also charged with conspiracy in the same
indictment. NKF partner Andreas Casutt said in a statement
Paltzer was leaving the firm, but declined to comment further.
Paltzer also declined to comment.
German prosecutors said on Wednesday they were investigating
employees of Credit Suisse and its units Clariden Leu and Neue
Aargauer Bank on suspicion of helping Germans evade taxes.
TAX EVASION ON G20 AGENDA
Several leading European Union countries have announced a
joint push against tax evasion, a message they will take to the
meeting of G20 finance officials in Washington this week.
Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who heads to
Washington to join the meeting on Thursday, said all countries
should be treated equally in the drive for bank transparency.
"We consider it very important that rules must apply to all
and are engaging ourselves for a level playing field in
multilateral forums," she told Reuters in written responses to
Switzerland often complains it is unfairly targeted compared
to other financial centres and sees the "offshore leaks" affair
as helping redress the balance as most of the accounts were in
other tax havens like the British Virgin Islands.
"Recent revelations have confirmed that various financial
centres in America and Asia do not comply with international
standards," Widmer-Schlumpf said.
Widmer-Schlumpf is expected to discuss further the outline
deal with the United States during her trip to Washington.
Negotiations have stalled in the past because Washington had
demanded client data going back as far as 2002 - which Berne
said it could not deliver due to strict Swiss bank secrecy laws
- and because U.S. authorities want to keep up pressure on tax
evaders to come clean under an amnesty launched last year.
The deal now under consideration would involve banks only
handing over data back to 2009, when Switzerland and the United
States signed a new double-taxation pact which allows the
transfer of information on more clients, the Swiss source said.
In return, Swiss negotiators are working on a plan to
deliver codified data detailing the money trail for those who
withdrew money before 2009 and placed it in other tax havens
instead, the source said.
The agreement would mean banks already under investigation
should settle with individual deferred prosecution agreements,
while a second group of banks which had U.S. clients but have
not yet been targeted by investigators would also have to agree
to pay fines and hand over data on their customers.
Credit Suisse, which has already made a 295 million Swiss
franc ($318.35 million) provision towards settling the
investigation, declined to comment. The Swiss Bankers
Association also declined to comment.
The country's biggest bank UBS was forced to pay a
fine of $780 million in 2009 and hand over the names of more
than 4,000 clients, delivering the U.S. authorities information
that allowed them to then pursue other Swiss banks.
Switzerland's oldest private bank, Wegelin & Co, said in
January it was closing down after pleading guilty to helping
Americans evade taxes, paying a fine of nearly $58 million.