Swiss bankers lobby backs plan to end US tax dispute

ZURICH (REUTERS) - The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) has backed a blueprint for an agreement between Switzerland and the United States aimed at ending a long-running tax dispute, an SBA spokeswoman said.

The Swiss government is keen to end the dispute in which US authorities have fined two Swiss banks for helping wealthy Americans evade tax and are investigating another dozen, while many more face probes for similar transgressions.

The latest proposal deals mainly with a settlement for the roughly 100 Swiss banks that had US clients, but are not yet being investigated by US justice authorities.

According to Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger, these banks may face fines of 20 to 50 per cent of the assets they are suspected of helping US citizens to hide from tax authorities.

Tages-Anzeiger said it had seen a copy of the proposal presented to the SBA.

"The board of directors fully supports the programme as the best among tough alternatives," an SBA spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

She declined to give details of the proposal or comment on the potential fines outlined by Tages-Anzeiger.

SBA directors include Boris Collardi, the chief executive of Julius Baer which is one of the banks being investigated by the United States.

Current talks between Swiss and US officials centre on roughly a dozen banks under investigation, which also include Credit Suisse, the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC , privately held Pictet and state-backed regional banks Zuercher Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank.

The Swiss government has said it will grant these banks permission to hand over client data to the United States, which will allow them to avoid charges as they cut individual deals.

While the two governments wrangle over the terms of an overarching settlement, Swiss banks not yet under investigation find themselves in legal limbo.

They are keen to cooperate with US prosecutors to avoid an indictment, but are unsure about what information they can hand over.

A Swiss government spokeswoman said discussions over the tax deal were expected to be concluded shortly.