ZURICH, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The Swiss government plans to hand over some data on UBS UBSN.VX (UBS.N) clients and accept a large fine against the bank in exchange for U.S. authorities ending a damaging tax probe, the NZZ am Sonntag reported.
The U.S. has accused UBS of helping rich Americans hide billions of dollars of untaxed money in Swiss accounts. They have asked UBS to hand over the names of its U.S. clients, a step that would breach Switzerland’s bank secrecy laws and may damage the country’s status as leading offshore centre.
But the Swiss newspaper said that Berne had found a legal way to quickly hand over to U.S. tax authorities the names of 300 U.S. clients out of the estimated 20,000 that have undeclared accounts with the Swiss banking giants.
“An agreement could be formally clinched shortly, possibly in the next few days,” the newspaper said.
UBS would also have to pay a large fine -- possibly $1 billion or more -- to have the investigation put behind it and get on with a much-needed restructuring after making $49 billion of credit crisis-linked writedowns.
UBS and the finance ministry declined to comment on the newspaper article.
Swiss government spokesman Oswald Sigg would also not comment but said: “UBS has been a discussion theme for the Swiss federal council during the last few weeks.”
The U.S. tax investigation has been a major headache for UBS, which is struggling to rebuild its reputation at home and abroad after coming close to bankruptcy in the credit crisis.
In November U.S. prosecutors indicted UBS’ global wealth management chief, who says he is innocent and has since stepped aside to prepare his defence.
The Swiss bank decided in July to stop offering offshore accounts to U.S. clients and is now closing down all Swiss bank accounts by Americans.
Writing by Lisa Jucca; editing by John Ston4estreet