Swiss upper chamber approves US tax deal

Jun 12 2013 18:04
Swiss banking giant UBS chairperson Axel Weber lea

Swiss banking giant UBS chairperson Axel Weber leaves during the group's annual shareholders meeting in Zurich on May 2 2013. (AFP)

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Zurich - The Swiss upper house of parliament backed on Wednesday a bill that would let Swiss banks hand over information to the US authorities to help settle a dispute on tax evasion.

After US action over tax evasion led to the closure of the country's oldest private bank earlier this year, and with formal investigations under way into some of its biggest institutions, the Swiss government urgently wants a compromise to end threats of criminal charges that have hurt a vital national industry.

The bill, which is set to go to the lower chamber next week, would allow banks to sidestep secrecy laws to strike settlements with US prosecutors, expected to include heavy fines which might amount to $10bn for the whole industry.

Though opposition to the draft law has been vocal from left to right as lawmakers chafe at what some call US blackmail, 24 lawmakers voted in favour of the bill and only 15 opposed. The draft law is likely to face tougher debate in the lower house.

The country's biggest bank UBS was forced in 2009 to pay a fine of $780m and deliver the names of more than 4 000 clients to avoid indictment, giving the US authorities information that allowed them to then pursue other Swiss banks.

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