The Swiss government agreed on Wednesday on a framework to allow the country's banks to pass data to U.S. authorities in a bid to save them from criminal charges for helping wealthy Americans evade taxes.

The move comes after the Swiss parliament last month rejected legislation that would have allowed banks to reveal internal information that would help U.S. authorities identify clients, while stopping short of handing over names.

The government agreed the parameters under which Swiss banks could seek to resolve the tax dispute and said they could apply for individual authorization to allow them to cooperate, but stressed they would not be allowed to hand over client data.

Swiss privacy laws have helped to make the Alpine country the world's biggest offshore financial centre, but they have also drawn the ire of countries seeking to fight tax evasion.

The government said in a statement that it was conducting further talks with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning a program it is offering to banks not yet under investigation.

More than a dozen banks are under formal U.S. investigation, including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC, privately held Pictet in Geneva and local government-backed Zuercher Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank.