A major Swiss bank has agreed to turn over information on thousands of accounts targeted by the United States for possible tax evasion.
From Nazis to modern-day criminals, Switzerland's legendary bank secrecy has long been exploited by those with assets to hide. For decades, Swiss banks have had a no-questions-asked policy when it comes to deposits, and a no-questions-answered policy when it comes to investigations of their customers.
Those policies are changing. The latest evidence: Swiss banking giant UBS has agreed to hand over details on more than 4,000 accounts to the U.S. government.
America's top tax official, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman hailed the accord on Bloomberg television.
"It is a huge victory for the U.S. government. This is an unprecedented agreement," he said.
The accounts are believed to hold as much as $18 billion in undeclared assets that until now were hidden from U.S. taxes.
Shulman praised reforms in Swiss banking.
"Until this year, we [U.S. authorities] had no access into any country that had banking secrecy laws," he added. "We are very pleased, and it is part of our ongoing effort to crack down on off-shore tax evasion. You can expect to see a lot more from us in terms of investigations of individuals and institutions over the next several years."
Switzerland's bankers association issued a statement in support of UBS' agreement with the United States. The accord effectively suspends a federal court case against UBS that could have dealt a severe blow to the bank's international operations and the Swiss economy, which relies heavily on the country's robust banking sector.
Under the agreement, targeted UBS bank customers will be notified before information on their accounts is released.