April 19, 2012 / 3:31 PM / 8 years ago

Top U.S., Swiss officials to discuss tax secrecy - sources

WASHINGTON/ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s finance minister is expected to meet with the head of the U.S. Department of Justice in coming days to try to solve a row over untaxed money in secret bank accounts, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.

Swiss President and Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (R) speaks to media next to Austria's Finance Minister Maria Fekter after sign a tax agreement between Switzerland and Austria in Bern April 13, 2012. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who also holds the rotating post of Swiss president, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are expected to meet on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s spring meetings in Washington which begin on Friday, the sources said, as Switzerland seeks to end the long-running dispute.

A global crackdown on tax evasion by cash-strapped governments in recent years has chipped away Switzerland’s tradition of banking secrecy, which helped it build up a $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry.

Eleven Swiss banks - including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer - are under investigation by the United States for aiding U.S. citizens suspected of dodging taxes.

Switzerland wants the investigations dropped, in exchange for payment of fines and the transfer of names of thousands of U.S. bank clients. It also wants a deal to shield the remainder of its 300 or so banks from U.S. prosecution.

Berne has already taken steps to make sure its bank clients pay their home country taxes and has struck deals with Germany and Britain to allow citizens of those two countries to pay tax without revealing their identities.

Widmer-Schlumpf has said she expects to find a solution with the United States this year but said in an interview on Apr. 13 that Switzerland cannot make further concessions to the United States.

In 2009, UBS paid a hefty fine and released the names of 4,500 clients to U.S. officials, an agreement in which then-Justice Minister Widmer-Schlumpf played a key role in arranging.

A spokesman for the Swiss finance ministry declined to comment on Widmer-Schlumpf’s plans while in Washington but said ministers often held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit.

A Justice Department spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Katharina Bart in Zurich and Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington

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