Swiss banks face lower fines than feared in US tax case

In May, Zurich-based Credit Suisse became the largest bank in decades to plead guilty to a US criminal charge and agreed to pay more than US$2.5 billion in penalties. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
In May, Zurich-based Credit Suisse became the largest bank in decades to plead guilty to a US criminal charge and agreed to pay more than US$2.5 billion in penalties. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH (REUTERS) - About 80 of the 106 Swiss banks that signed up for a deal with US tax authorities could be fined less than they had feared for their role in helping wealthy Americans cheat on their taxes, but must widen their cooperation, a Swiss newspaper reported.

The banks, which include Geneva-based Lombard Odier and Zurich firm EFG International, came forward under a programme brokered by the Swiss and US governments, after criminal investigations of roughly a dozen Swiss banks including Credit Suisse in the United States.

So-called second category banks will escape prosecution if they detail their wrong-doing with US clients and pay fines under the programme agreed last year.

But they must cooperate more fully with US prosecutors before reaching non-prosecution agreements, Finanz und Wirtschaft reported on Saturday, citing unnamed legal sources.

Since a Dec 31 deadline to enter the programme, the banks have delivered information on how many American clients they have served in recent months, and clarified with US officials what the penalties for harbouring funds in offshore accounts will be.

In May, Zurich-based Credit Suisse became the largest bank in decades to plead guilty to a US criminal charge and agreed to pay more than US$2.5 billion in penalties for similar offences.

The US Department of Justice, which last month extended the deadline for category 2 banks by one month, hasn't discussed specific financial penalties for those firms, according to Finanz und Wirtschaft.

Each bank's situation will be determined by September, the paper reported.

The banks are not required to hand over client names as part of the deal, but must commit to handing over information which will help US officials set up judicial aid requests to pursue tax dodgers.

A spokesperson for the Swiss government wasn't immediately available for comment on Saturday.