(Bloomberg News) Swiss banks will probably settle a sweeping U.S. probe of offshore tax evasion by paying billions of dollars and handing over names of thousands of Americans who have secret accounts, according to two people familiar with the matter.
U.S. and Swiss officials are concluding negotiations on a civil settlement amid U.S. criminal probes of 11 financial institutions, including Credit Suisse Group AG, suspected of helping American clients hide money from the Internal Revenue Service, according to five people with knowledge of the talks who declined to speak publicly because they are confidential.
Switzerland, the biggest haven for offshore wealth, wants an end to new U.S. probes while preserving its decades-old tradition of bank secrecy, the people said. The U.S. seeks data on Americans who have dodged U.S. taxes and a pledge by Swiss banks to stop helping such clients, according to the people. The Swiss reached accords this year with Germany and the U.K. on untaxed assets.
"The Swiss would like to get out of this by paying money, and they've done that with other countries," said tax attorney H. David Rosenbloom of Caplin & Drysdale Chartered in Washington, who isn't involved in the talks. "For the U.S., it's not primarily a money question. It's a matter of making sure the laws apply fairly among taxpayers."
The Swiss government seeks to outline a final accord for the Foreign Affairs Committee of its Parliament's upper house on Nov. 10, according to a person familiar with the matter. The number of banks that will pay to resolve the U.S. negotiations may extend beyond the 11 under criminal investigation, the people said.
"We are aiming for an all-encompassing solution that will apply to all the banks," Finance Minister Eveline Widmer- Schlumpf said in an Oct. 4 interview in the Swiss capital Bern. "We don't want to be confronted with the same issues time and again."
Under accords this year with Germany and the U.K. on untaxed assets, the identity of clients remained secret. The U.S. insists that the Swiss disclose client account data, and the banks may end up handing over data on 5,000 to 10,000 accounts, the people said. A final determination hasn't been made, they said.
The U.S. Justice Department also may bring criminal charges or civil enforcement actions against any of the 11 financial institutions. They could avoid prosecution by separately paying fines, admitting wrongdoing and disclosing data, the people said. On Aug. 30, the Justice Department requested statistical data from the 11 about their U.S. accounts, which the U.S. has received and is analyzing, the people said.
Credit Suisse, the second-biggest Swiss bank, said July 15 that it was a target of U.S. prosecutors. On July 21, seven Credit Suisse bankers were indicted on a charge of conspiring to help U.S. clients evade taxes through secret accounts.
The group of 11 also includes HSBC Holdings Plc, the biggest European bank, Basler Kantonalbank, Wegelin & Co., Zuercher Kantonalbank, and Julius Baer Group Ltd., the people said. Three Israeli banks -- Bank Leumi Le-Israel BM, Bank Hapoalim BM, and Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd. -- are on the list, as well as Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG and an asset manager, NZB AG, according to the people.