U.S. abandons tax deal talks with Switzerland: report

Published July 17, 2011

| Reuters

ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States has ended talks with Switzerland aimed at settling a row over investigations into Swiss banks accused of helping Americans dodge taxes, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Citing an unnamed source with insider knowledge, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper said the U.S. had sent Berne a letter two weeks ago saying it had no interest in a global settlement to end the tax dispute.

A Swiss finance ministry spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report.

On Saturday, the Tages-Anzeiger daily reported negotiations between Switzerland and the U.S. had stalled because the U.S. Department of Justice was not interested in a deal.

An announcement on Friday that Credit Suisse <CSGN.VX> was being targeted in a broader investigation into banks suspected of helping Americans evade taxes was seen as an attempt to increase pressure on Switzerland in the talks.

Switzerland agreed in 2009 to weaken its strict bank secrecy and hand over data of clients suspected of using Swiss accounts to dodge taxes, to settle a U.S. investigation of its biggest bank UBS AG <UBSN.VX><UBS.N>, which also paid a fine of $780 million in 2009 to avoid criminal charges.

Last month, sources told Reuters the talks had become bogged down due to Swiss insistence that any deal leave Swiss bankers free from prosecution in the U.S.

Any deal would involve the U.S. dropping its investigation in return for the banks paying a fine, exiting their undeclared offshore banking businesses for Americans, and turning over client names to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Other companies involved in the probe include HSBC <HSBA.L>, Europe's largest bank; Julius Baer <BAER.VX>, a private bank based in Zurich; and Basler Kantonalbank <BSKP.S>.

Bank secrecy has come under attack in recent years amid a global campaign against offshore tax havens, forcing Switzerland to pledge to co-operate more to help hunt tax cheats.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by David Hulmes)

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