News / Economy

Swiss Banks Agree to US Tax Deal

FILE - A woman walks past a building of the Swiss bank Valiant in Lucerne.
FILE - A woman walks past a building of the Swiss bank Valiant in Lucerne.
Reuters
The first Swiss banks have signaled their readiness to work with U.S. officials in a crackdown on wealthy Americans evading taxes and many more are expected to follow in the coming weeks, in the latest blow to Switzerland's cherished bank secrecy.
 
The deal between the United States and Switzerland, agreed in August, is part of a U.S. drive to lift the veil of Swiss bank secrecy. In 2009, this led to UBS paying $780 million in a settlement where the bank agreed to hand over U.S. client names with secret Swiss accounts.
 
The U.S. pursuit of tax dollars sheltered in offshore accounts has piled pressure on Switzerland, the world's largest offshore finance center with more than $2 trillion in assets.
 
The Swiss government in June bowed to repeated attacks on banking secrecy, deeply embedded in the country's culture, and will share data on foreign depositors if a global standard is established.
 
Under this latest U.S. deal, Swiss banks were given until Monday by their regulator to say whether they would take part in the government-brokered program open to a host of second-tier Swiss banks.
 
The program, which lapses at year-end, requires the banks to hand out some previously hidden information and face penalties of up to 50 percent of assets they managed on behalf of wealthy Americans. If the banks shun the U.S. offer, individual firms and senior staff risk criminal prosecution.
 
The regulator FINMA said on Tuesday that most had done so, and that it expected several more to do so shortly, without disclosing what the banks had decided.
 
Valiant Holding and Berner Kantonalbank, two mainly retail banks, said they would come clean on any past transgressions and face up to fines.
 
The fines are scaled to reflect how egregiously the banks acted in their dealings with U.S. customers. Fines would have to be disclosed to investors because they could have an impact on share prices.
 
A third -- Zurich-based private bank and securities firm Vontobel Holding AG -- said it would also participate. But it put itself in a category of institutions that have not committed any U.S. tax-related offenses and are therefore exempt from penalty payments.
 
The bank began transferring business with wealthy Americans into an entity registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, when the crackdown on Switzerland's banks intensified.
 
How many of Switzerland's 300-plus private banks come forward under the program is also key for banks facing criminal investigations, which includes some of Switzerland's biggest banks such as Credit Suisse and Julius Baer and Pictet & Cie.
 
A host of listed private banks such as EFG International and Banque Cantonale de Geneve said they had yet to make a decision. St. Galler Kantonalbank, which owns private bank Hyposwiss, said it had informed the Swiss regulator of intention, but would only tell investors what it had decided when it had been formalized by its board.
 
These publicly-listed banks, which are subject to disclosure rules, give the first indication of how many firms will cooperate with the U.S. authorities under the plan.
 
But most of Switzerland's private banks are not listed and under no obligation to make their decision public.
 
Major player Lombard Odier & Cie said it is still evaluating what to do. Others such as J. Safra Sarasin, Union Bancaire Privee and Mirabaud did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday.
 
A legal expert said FINMA's Monday deadline was merely intended to take the temperature of Swiss banks' intentions, and that they have three more weeks until the legally-binding deadline to take up the deal lapses.
 
“I think roughly 100 banks will end up coming forward - the coming weeks will show how many succumb to the pressure,” Peter V. Kunz, professor of business law at Berne University, said.
 
A failure to cooperate could also hold up a settlement for Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, Pictet, and local government-backed Zuercher Kantonalbank (ZKB), which have seen settlement talks with U.S. justice officials frozen pending a solution for the wider industry.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9152
JPY
USD
122.70
GBP
USD
0.6494
CAD
USD
1.2374
INR
USD
63.925

Rates may not be current.