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Swiss Balk at Bank Disclosures to US Authorities

Senators debate the banking secrecy in Switzerland's Council of States, the Swiss federal assembly's upper house, in the parliament building in Berne, Switzerland, March 17, 2009.
Swiss lawmakers are balking at ending the country's long-time bank secrecy tradition so the financial institutions can tell U.S. authorities about suspected American tax evaders.

The lower house of the Swiss parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to not discuss a government proposal that would have given the Alpine country's 300 banks the right to talk to American investigators about the secret accounts of wealthy investors.

The rejection sent the measure back to parliament's upper house for more discussion. The upper house approved the plan last week, but critics have called the end to strict bank secrecy a violation of Swiss sovereignty.

Swiss banks are believed to hold vast sums of money in accounts owned by Americans who have not disclosed their holdings to U.S. tax authorities. U.S. investigators have demanded that a Swiss disclosure plan be in place by July 1.

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf warned lawmakers that if the country's secrecy laws are not relaxed to allow the banks to pass on the information, U.S. authorities are planning to bring criminal charges against them.