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.
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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.
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.